Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Midterm Stretch Drive

So it's been just over a week since the last special election before the November midterms and it's time to assess where we are and where we could end up.

First, my take on the Ohio 12th. It looks like Republican Troy Balderson is going to prevail over Democrat Danny O'Connor. The race was listed as too close to call, but even with provisional ballots counted, O'Connor still trails by about 1500 votes. Still, given the makeup of the district, the fact that a Democrat came within one point of winning is significant. How significant? Consider that the district was +14 Republican lean going into the election and the final margin was +1. That's a 13 point swing.

In fact, if you look at the ten special elections that have taken place in which the Republican was the incumbent - including the Alabama Senate race that Doug Jones won - the average was a plus 23 for the GOP, with the Democrat outperforming the Republican by an average of 15 points. The result was a lot of close shaves that should've been blowouts. If you want to know why pundits are predicting a blue wave this November, here's why.

According to the Cook Political Report, there are now a total of 87 Republican seats that are either lean or tossup compared with just 14 Democratic seats that are lean or tossup. Lean seats are typically those where the lead is between 4 and 10 points, while tossups are usually 3 points or less. Assuming Dems win 70 percent of those Republican seats and lose, say, 50 percent of theirs, that would mean a net gain of 54 seats. That's 31 more than the 23 they need to take control of the House. Even if they only win 50 percent of the GOP seats and lose an equal percentage of theirs, we're talking a net gain of 36 seats, 13 more than they need to win the majority.

Want a more conservative estimate? Fine. Say Dems win only 40 percent of the 87 seats and still lose 50 percent of theirs. That still gives them a net gain of 27 seats, four more than they need to win the majority. Now you know why Republicans are shitting their pants. Even conservative estimates have them losing the House this November.

Now before you go planning a ticker tape parade down Broadway, it's important to note a couple of possible hiccups. One, not all of the elections in this year's midterms are going to result in the Democrat outperforming the Republican by 15 points. In fact, there were three races where the margin was under 10, including the Georgia 6th, in which the Republican was only a plus 9. Many thought that race was winnable, yet the Democrat only outperformed by 6 points. If that happens enough times this November, Republicans will hold onto their majority, if only by the hair of their chinny chin chins. In baseball, like politics, it doesn't matter whether you win by one run or a dozen. The only thing that counts is the final score. Despite all the hoopla about Democrats having the wind at their backs, the fact is they're two for ten this season. Not very encouraging.

The other possible hiccup has to do with the generic ballot, which was tightening until a couple of recent polls by CNN and Quinnipiac were released. As of this writing, the RCP average is 5.7 points in favor of Democrats. That is not nearly high enough to flip the House. The conventional wisdom is that the average needs to be somewhere around 7 points or higher in order for them to regain the majority. In 2006, for instance, the final RCP average was 7.9 and Democrats netted 31 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate, enough to take both chambers.

Look, I'm not saying Democrats won't win the House. After all, Trump continues to poll around 43 percent, and according to Gallup, presidents who poll under 50 percent see their party lose an average of 36 House seats in their first midterm. Even Eisenhower, with a 61 percent approval rating, lost 18 seats. All I'm saying is that with under three months to go, it's hardly a slam dunk. Anything can happen.

I guess I'm just cautiously optimistic, with the emphasis on cautious.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Mueller Should Stop Pussyfooting With Trump

It's clear that Donald Trump's legal team has no intention of allowing him to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller. Frankly, I don't blame them. If you had this president for a client would you allow him to testify under oath before a prosecutor? I didn't think so. Rudy Giuliani may be a laughing stock, but he's no idiot, and neither is Jay Sekulow, the other half of this comedy team that has been making the rounds on the cable news talk shows. Abbott and Costello know they have a losing hand legally, so they're playing the only hand available to them: the political one.

Mueller should call their bluff now and end this charade before it goes on any further. Either he issues a subpoena to force Trump to testify before a grand jury or he concludes that he already has enough evidence to issue a report without his testimony. My money's on the latter, and here's why.

Let's assume Mueller goes through with a subpoena. Trump's team challenges it. The D.C. Circuit issues a ruling in Mueller's favor and it gets appealed to the Supreme Court. That means we won't likely get a decision until late September, maybe even early October - a month before the midterms. Just what the Democrats need, another issue for Trump's base to get all lathered up about. If it isn't guns, it's the deep state looking to remove their guy from office. Mad dogs don't have that much foam around their mouths.

Then there's the distinct possibility that if the Supreme Court rules against him, Trump will simply defy it. What exactly is Mueller going to do? Drag him out of the White House in cuffs? It would be unprecedented in American politics. If you think the electorate is polarized now, just try something like that. The whole country would go up in flames.

And, God forbid, what if the Supreme Court decides against Mueller? I know it's a stretch, but, hey, two years ago, the thought of Trump winning the presidency was also a stretch. We all know how that turned out. The specter of a ruling in their favor would give the conspiracy nuts the justification they've been looking for to proclaim the whole investigation a hoax. The fallout would make the toga party at Delta House seem like cramming for a mid-term exam.

This isn't Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen we're talking about here. We're talking about the President of the United States. We're talking about a man who has gone out of his way to hide his financial dealings from public view; who openly admitted to soliciting information on a political opponent from a foreign government - a violation of campaign finance law; who pressured FBI Director James Comey to ease up on the target of a criminal investigation; who publicly admitted in an interview with Lester Holt that he fired Comey over the "Rusher" investigation; who then went on Twitter and publicly called for his attorney general to end that very same investigation. That's called obstruction of justice, people. The White House has already publicly conceded that Trump's tweets are official policy. What more does Mueller need to make his case?

The point is there's not much, if anything, to be gained from issuing a subpoena, and potentially a lot to lose. Other than the spectacle of a sitting president being served with a subpoena, Muller has already connected most of the dots he needs to prove collusion, obstruction of justice and / or money laundering without Trump's testimony. Giuliani and Sekulow already know this. That's why they're trying to drag this out as much as possible. The longer they can delay Mueller's final report, the more they can sway public opinion in their favor.

And their strategy appears to be working. Though a plurality of Americans still believe in the integrity of the investigation, support has dropped almost 10 points in just the last two months. Who knows what might happen in another two months? While the court of public opinion will not decide the merits of this case, if only half the country approves of what Mueller is doing, that will only embolden Trump's enablers in Congress and make it that much harder to bring impeachment proceedings against him. And if Democrats fail to retake the House - a distinct possibility - Trump might well appoint a stooge who would oversee the investigation and end it. It could be years before we know the full scope of what happened. In other words, Trump might end up escaping the fate that befell Nixon.

That's why Mueller should give up negotiating with Trump's legal team and move on to the report phase of this investigation. Depending on how the Manafort trial goes and what information Cohen gives up - assuming he flips, which he will likely do - Mueller should be able to present his findings to Rod Rosenstein by Labor Day. At that point, the ball will be in the Deputy Attorney General's court. He can make it public, submit it to Congress or both.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Don Jr. and Jared Kushner get indicted and Trump himself named as an unindicted co-conspirator. If the case against Bill Clinton is any indication, there should be at least three articles of impeachment that will be recommended by the Justice Department. Trump will explode and likely fire Rosenstein, and perhaps even Sessions for not unrecusing himself, but by that point it'll already be too late. The American people will finally know the full scope of what happened and they'll be able to judge for themselves what course of action should be taken. If Republicans don't act, they will likely face the consequences come November. You want a wave? How about a tsunami?

Of course, if it turns out that Mueller still has some more rocks to look under - Roger Stone perhaps? - that's another story altogether. In that event, this thing may drag out into next year. We have to remember that there is a lot about this investigation we still don't know. That's because while Giuliani continues to run his mouth on Fox and Friends and Hannity, the prosecution has been the epitome of discipline. To date there hasn't been a single leak from Mueller's team. Virtually all the leaks have come from Trump's team, Trump himself or Congressional Republicans.

But barring that scenario, it's time Mueller stopped pussyfooting with this president. With or without his testimony, Trump has given him more than enough ammunition. I say pull the trigger and let the chips fall where they may.

Post Script: in an earlier version of this piece I wrote that Trump admitted in an interview with Lester Holt that he fired James Comey because he wouldn't let the Michael Flynn investigation go. In fact, Trump never admitted to that. What he said was the "Rusher" investigation was the reason he fired him. I have made the correction.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Laura Ingraham Accidentally Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

On a recent segment of her Fox News show, “The Ingraham Angle,” Laura Ingraham said the following:

In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn't exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they're changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed. Now much of this is related to both illegal and, in some cases, legal immigration that, of course, progressives love.

The comment has drawn widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum; a majority of it coming from conservatives who, I suppose, were probably more offended by the fact Ingraham continues to call herself a conservative.

This is not the first time Ingraham has been called out for making inflammatory statements. Back in March, she took a "planned vacation" after she tweeted that David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting, was "whining" about not getting into four colleges he had applied to. After several advertisers decided to boycott her show, Ingraham did an about face and issued a half-hearted apology.

She did likewise after this latest atrocity, claiming that she wasn't talking about race. Of course you weren't, Laura. You were just warning us about an impending invasion of Klingons intent on wiping out most of humanity and forcing the rest of us to eat gagh. Jesus, the only thing I hate more than a racist who won't own her words, is a racist who continually wears a cross around her neck without the slightest idea of what that cross means. You should really take it off, Laura, it isn't helping you.

In a way, though, I suppose we should be grateful to Ingraham. I'm not sure if she realized it or not, but her words, as hateful and racist as they were, perfectly crystalized the alt-right movement in this country. But more than that, they underscored the fear that many in the white community are experiencing about these "demographic changes" that Ingraham alluded to; changes that will inevitably lead to the white race in this country being a minority within the next 30 to 40 years.

Donald Trump has preyed upon that fear to activate the most reprehensible elements in our country. I'm still not prepared to admit that it alone was enough to carry him across the finish line, but it undoubtedly played, and continues to play, an integral role in virtually all of his stances. From his hideous wall, to his administration's decision to separate children from their parents, to the militarization of ICE in the round-up of illegal immigrants that would've made Himmler proud, all of these policies are intended to appeal to that constituency that Ingraham spoke about; the people who "don't like" the direction the country's headed in.

Forget dog whistles, people. We have a president who openly uses Twitter like a bullhorn to spew his racism and a network, masquerading as a cable news channel, that enables it on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. That Ingraham still has a job is proof positive that this tactic is working. More and more, white people are falling for the canard that their way of life is coming to an end, just because the country is becoming increasingly brown. Rather than appeal to our better angels, people like Ingraham appeal to our darker natures.

The fear that these people are invoking today is no different than the fear the country was gripped in more than a century ago when the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and the Jews were singled out as somehow "different," i.e. inferior, to the people who were already here. Steps were taken then to "limit" those people from emigrating into the country. The internment of the Japanese during World War II remains one of the nation's most embarrassing chapters.

My religion tells me that the only way to defeat hate is with love. You cannot successfully combat it on its turf. Indeed, evil wants to draw us into battle; that's how it spreads. Just look at all of Trump's opponents. Virtually all of them employed his tactics and all of them ended up on the losing side. As the singer / songwriter Jewel once sang, "I will gather myself around my faith, for light does the darkness most fear."

I am not being pollyanna when I say that the overt racism which has inflicted this nation will eventually be defeated, not because I am naive enough to believe that we can ever entirely eradicate it from the body politic, but because we can expose it and its proponents to the light of day. The truth is all of us, on some level, have a story to tell about what our parents or grandparents went through when they entered this country. The bigotry they endured should sound a wakeup call for all of us.

Among my heritage, signs that read "Irish Need Not Apply" lined the local shops and businesses of New York City in the early 20th century. In Mel Brooks's classic movie Blazing Saddles, the people of the fake town of Rockridge were willing to take in the Chinese, but when it came to my people, they were defiant:"We don't want the Irish!" A joke in 1974, but a stark reality in 1904.

America has often been referred to as a melting pot. I rather think of it as a pressure cooker. And like any good pressure cooker, the ingredients are simmered together to create a meal of distinctive flavors and aromas. Taken separately they amount to nothing, but together they form the sustenance needed for a healthy society to flourish and grow.

The United States of the early 20th century looked nothing like it did during its colonial days. And the United States of today looks nothing like it did a hundred years ago. Fifty years from now, it will look vastly different. And that is a good thing. Our founders did not create a perfect union. Rather they created one that is constantly becoming more and more perfect.

The fact that Laura Ingraham doesn't understand or like it, doesn't change that fact. In the end, the racism that she and this president espouse will be relegated to the ash heap of history.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Allen Weisselberg's Testimony Could Put the Final Nail In Trump's Coffin

Over the past week, there have been three major news stories that have involved Donald Trump that if proven true could be deeply damaging to his presidency. The first two concern leaks by Michael Cohen through his attorney Lanny Davis that 1. Trump knew about and authorized payment to AMI, the company that owns The National Inquirer, as compensation for buying the rights to a story about an affair he had with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal; and 2. Trump knew about the meeting his son had with a Russian operative to get "dirt" on Hillary Clinton prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Regarding the first story, Trump's exposure comes down to whether Robert Mueller can make a case that campaign finance laws had been violated. If so, it might be nothing more than a substantial fine. If anything, Cohen might end up worse for the wear. He was the one who set up the shell company that was used to pay off Stormy Daniels and AMI and, as a result, could be disbarred, whether he gets indicted or not. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Davis released it since it incriminates his client as much as, if not more so, than Trump.

The second story comes down to a he said / he said argument. And while Trump is someone who is a known pathological liar, it's not like Cohen is Mother Teresa. Unless there's a tape out there that Mueller can use as evidence of collusion, I don't see this as anything more than just more fodder for the talking heads on cable news.

But the third story is, to put it in Trumpian verbiage, YUGE! That was the revelation that long-time accountant and CFO of the Trump Organization Allen Weisselberg has been called to testify before the Grand Jury in the Michael Cohen case. Why is this significant? One, because Cohen mentioned him by name in the tape Davis leaked; and two, as CFO, he knows everything there is to know about Trump and his business dealings.

In other words, Weisselberg will be able to provide the missing pieces of the puzzle that Robert Mueller is assembling in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. As I have stated on several occasions, the real jeopardy for Trump isn't so much collusion, which I will stipulate is a very difficult case to prove, but rather where and whom he gets his money from. In short, if Mueller can make the case that the source of Trump's income is Russian oligarchs, that is what they refer to in tennis parlance as game, set and match.

That's why he's been trying to shut down this investigation. Not because he's worried that admitting Russia interfered with our electoral process would undermine his legitimacy as president. Hell, it didn't bother George Bush one bit that the Supreme Court's intervention in 2000 gave him the presidency. No, the real reason he's paranoid is because the longer this investigation goes on the more likely it is that the world will find out what many of us already suspect: that Putin owns him.

Think about it. In Trump's narrow view of the world, everything he does revolves around enriching himself. He originally ran for president believing he would lose to Hillary and then start his own conservative cable news network that would make him a ton of money. Winning screwed all that up, insomuch as it put his entire life under a microscope. If Mueller can prove he's in bed with the Russians all his plans go out the window. He's ruined financially. Indeed, he would be a pariah. Even Fox News would abandon him.

I suspect Mueller already has all of Trump's tax returns going back at least a decade. He also has access to financial records of the Trump organization. What he needs from Weisselberg is corroboration to connect the dots. If he gets it, Mueller may not need Trump to testify before the Grand Jury. In fact, if after Weisselberg's testimony, Trump's legal team ends up getting a notice that their "client" doesn't have to appear before the Grand Jury, that would be a bad sign for Trump. It means that Mueller is close to issuing his report, and that report will likely recommend either an indictment, impeachment or both.

In my opinion we are now in the final stages of the Russia investigation. No doubt a few more indictments are forthcoming. Whether any of them will involve Trump and / or his family remains to be seen.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why Katrina vanden Heuvel Is Wrong About the Helsinki Summit

A few days ago, Katrina vanden Heuvel, senior editor and publisher of The Nation, wrote an op-ed for that magazine, in which she makes the case for "parsing the inane from the sensible in what the president said" at the Helsinki summit last week.

I should point out I have been a fan of vanden Heuvel for years and consider her to be a very lucid and thoughtful, if somewhat provocative, writer. She has a nasty habit of making progressives look before they leap to judgment; a trait I wish more progressive writers would adopt. But referring to anything that came out of this summit as "sensible" strains the bounds of credibility.

To be fair, vanden Heuvel starts off by acknowledging Trump's "manic defensiveness about the legitimacy of his election" and the "serial lying" that has come to define his administration. Indeed, she is not blind to what he and his fellow Republicans have done and continue to do to the country. But it's not her critique of Trump that I take issue with; it's her implication - shared by more than just a few progressives and an overwhelming majority of libertarians - that the United States must share the blame for the current state of relations between both countries that is most troubling. She writes,
Although he was widely reviled for it, Trump is also not wrong to say that both powers have contributed to the deteriorating relations. Leaders of the US national-security establishment protest our country’s innocence regarding the tensions in Georgia and Ukraine. But it was perhaps the wisest of them, the eminent diplomat George Kennan, who warned in 1998 that the decision to extend NATO to Russia’s borders was a “tragic mistake” that would eventually provoke a hostile response. “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” Kennan said presciently. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.”
First off, the jury is still out as to whether NATO's expansion eastward was the motivating factor for Russian aggression. In an interview she did for 60 Minutes back in January, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-cheif of RT, said it was the decision to bomb then Yugoslavia in 1999 that was the turning point in U.S. - Russian relations. According to her, "That was when you lost us."

Now there's no way of knowing whether even that is accurate. Simonyan is, after all, 38 years old. That would've made her 19 at the time of the U.S. intervention. I seriously doubt that she was as plugged into events happening just outside her country as she is now. What is more likely is that she has been conditioned to accept that narrative as fact, like a majority of her fellow citizens and, sadly, many progressives in this country. They still hold on to the notion that it was Western expansion that provoked Eastern retaliatory responses, when in fact history shows the exact opposite.

The truth, I suspect, has more to do with Vladimir Putin's desire to reconstruct the old Soviet empire he knew as a KGB agent than with any increased influence of NATO or our intervention into what was widely and rightly viewed by the global community as a war of genocide. And that is why both George W. Bush and Barack Obama badly misread and greatly underestimated him in their negotiations. And also why Trump is foolishly following in their footsteps.

Let's set aside for the moment the discussion of whether you believe Trump is guilty of treason - as I wrote in my last piece, he is. Let's also set aside his insistence that the whole Russia investigation is a witch hunt. For an American president to stand on the same stage as a Russian president and even hint that both sides are equally to blame - stupid was the word Trump used - is insulting and belies the facts, whether you're a progressive, conservative, libertarian or Romulan.

As to the other point vanden Heuvel makes in her piece - the "common stakes" both countries have in "reducing tensions" - I would agree with her, to a point. However, the manner in which Trump broached the subject - from weakness rather than strength - is anathema to any successful discussion along those lines. It would be analogous to the victim of a house burglary reaching out to the burglar to help him design a home security system.

God help me for saying this, but in the last 70 years of dealing with the Russians, only one American president has had the right approach. That was Ronald Reagan. As much as it kills me to admit, Reagan's tough stance on what he called the "Evil Empire," forced Moscow to the negotiating table. His meetings with then Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev helped paved the way for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.  While the Left was critical of Reagan's rhetoric - many calling it reckless and hyperbolic - in hindsight he was proven right.

The simple fact is that the only way to negotiate with Russia historically has been through strength. Anything less than that is viewed by them as capitulation. Right now in Moscow, Putin and his supporters must be grinning from ear to ear. They could scarcely have imagined a better outcome than what transpired in Helsinki. Think about it: Putin got the satisfaction of being able to paint his country as the moral equivalent of the United States. Like Kim Jong Un earlier in the year, a dictator went toe to toe with our president and came out the clear winner. Reagan must be spinning in his grave at the mere spectacle.

Look, I am not against the idea of both countries working together to reduce global tensions. No sane person wants a scenario in which the two countries that possess 90 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal find themselves in another Cuban Missile Crisis. But what happened in Helsinki was a hostage takeover, pure and simple. Putin barked and Trump bowed. Just look at the body language of both men and you tell me who you think had the better day.

International diplomacy is one of the essential job requirements of any world leader. It demands rigorous discipline and intense preparation; the exact opposite of what we saw last Monday. What we got instead was one president who was at the top of his game while the other was clearly in over his head.

I'll give you one guess which one Trump was.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Yes, Trump Committed Treason

This is what Title 18, Part I, Chapter 115 of the United States Code has to say about treason.

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Based on the above definition, Donald Trump has committed treason. Here's why.

The President of the United States is the chief executive of the country and commander in chief of the armed forces. He or she is sworn to defend the Constitution against all threats, foreign and domestic. 

Russia is not only a threat to this country, it has proven itself to be a hostile actor in the international community, and its leader, Vladimir Putin, has authorized the meddling of not only our elections but the elections of several European countries. Our intelligence community has not only verified this, our Justice Department has handed down 12 indictments against Russian agents working for the GRU. Furthermore, our intelligence community has issued a warning that Russia's efforts to interfere with our elections will continue into the midterms and perhaps even into the 2020 presidential election.

This attack on our democracy was and continues to be an act of war. True, it was not as horrific or deadly as the attacks on 9/11, but in every other way, it was just as damaging. In fact, I would argue, it was more so. 9/11 brought us together as a country. This attack deeply divided us, which was precisely what Putin was hoping for when he authorized it. Destabilization of the West is his ultimate goal.

Make no mistake about it. Trump stood next to the man who attacked this country and not only gave him aid and comfort, he threw his own intelligence community under the bus and entertained the insulting proposition of handing over some of our people to be interrogated by Putin's operatives. Can you imagine George Bush giving Osama bin Laden the chance to question the survivors of the World Trade Center? Or FDR allowing Hirohito a crack at Pearl Harbor Navy personnel?

Trump's apologists have argued that all he was trying to do, clumsily, was foster a working relationship with a major player in the world that could help us in Syria and perhaps North Korea. What good would it do to show up in Helsinki and be accusatory?

I would counter that is precisely what a commander in chief is supposed to do. First you defend your country, then you look for areas of common interest. For someone who ran on an America First platform, when it comes to Russia, Trump has been anything but. As I stated in an earlier piece, he looks like "someone who has a great deal to fear."

This is an act of treason if ever there was one. I know there are people on both sides of the political aisle who are reluctant to go there. They prefer to chalk this up as just another one of his myriad idiosyncrasies.

I say bullshit, and here's why.

He called Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man," he referred to NATO as obsolete, he has attacked members of the press and tried the patience of our allies with his recklessness. He's as delicate as a bull in a china shop and just as charming. He's done maybe ten decent things in his whole life, and we're supposed to believe that this uncharacteristic display of affection towards a ruthless dictator was due to his sudden concern about diplomacy? He couldn't spell the word diplomacy if it was written on the forehead of his flunky Mike Pence.

No, this had nothing to do with diplomacy. Nor was it a negotiating tactic. Putin has something on him. Donald Trump is the most transparent man ever to enter politics; if he ever decided to play poker, he'd be filing for another bankruptcy. The man was cowed up on that stage and everyone knew it. His minions may have given him a mulligan, but for the rest of the world, the jig was up. If there were any doubts as to Trump's collusion, they were dashed on Monday.  Putin owns him, lock, stock and barrel.

And now this owned man is planning another meeting with his master, this time at the White House, of all places. Great, we can role out the red carpet, fly the Russian flag and the army can play the Russian national anthem. Hey, if you're going to sell out the country, why not go the extra mile? And keep in mind, we still don't know what happened behind closed doors at that first meeting. For all we know, Trump may have agreed to withdraw U.S. troops from Europe. Yes, he would do that.

I am not being hyperbolic when I say Trump has committed treason. Those of you who've read my blog over the years know full well that I am not given to hysteria. If anything, I've often taken positions that have rubbed more than a few progressives the wrong way. It has been my desired goal to try as best I can to keep emotion out of the equation whenever possible, sometimes to a fault. I am proud of the title "pragmatic progressive," even if at times it seemed an oxymoron. But this is different. What this man represents shakes me to my core and I refuse to be silent.

I know full well the implication of the charge that I am making, and I stand by it one hundred percent. We have a deeply compromised president in the Oval Office who is owned by Vladimir Putin, a man who has attacked this country and represents an ongoing threat to every western democracy. Trump has given aid and comfort to that man. That makes him a traitor. No other conclusion is possible or believable. Pundits have been scratching their heads over the last few days trying to come up with a plausible explanation for his conduct in Helsinki. They should quit while they're behind; the answer is right there in front of their noses.

It was that old sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, who once coined the phrase, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." It's a practical impossibility that a sitting president could be a traitor because we've never had one in our history, so we can't wrap our heads around such a concept. But while it may be improbable, it is, nonetheless, the sad and ghastly truth. To deny it would only add insult to the injury he has already perpetrated on this nation and its people.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What This Congress Could Do To Thwart Trump

I realize, given the current state of the Republican Party, this is wishful thinking on my part, but sometimes wishful thinking is all you've got. So, in no particular order, here is a list of things this Congress could do to thwart what this president has done, or might do.

A presidential censure. No it's not nearly as gratifying as an actual impeachment, but it sends a clear and unambiguous message to Trump and the world. You embarrass this country, there's hell to pay. The last president to be censured was Andrew Jackson in 1834. I guess you could say we're overdue.

A bill to protect both Mueller and Rosenstein. It's clear that Robert Mueller is close to indicting Americans in the Russia investigation and some of them might be very close to this president. When that happens, the likelihood is that he will fire Rod Rosenstein and then appoint a replacement to fire Mueller. Congress can stop him in his tracks.

Subpoena Trump's tax returns. It's clear he's hiding something. The excuse that he can't release his returns because he's under audit is absurd. The real reason has to do with what's in those returns. The only way we'll know is if they're subpoenaed and released. My guess is once that happens, the whole world will know that the main source of this man's income is from Russian oligarchs, which not only makes him compromised as a president, but a traitor to the country.

Draft a bipartisan letter to Putin assuring him that all sanctions will remain in place. During the Obama Administration, several Republicans senators sent a letter to the leaders of Iran warning them that the deal they had entered into with the United States and several other countries to free up assets would not be honored in the event a future administration decided to walk away from it. Now would be a good time for a show of bipartisan support to let Putin know that regardless of whatever "deal" he and Trump may have agreed to in Helsinki that Congress has the final say.

Suspend all judicial appointments until the Mueller probe is concluded. No president who is the subject of a criminal investigation should be allowed to appoint judges to the bench. He may fill cabinet vacancies, but that's it. The idea that a potential Supreme Court justice could be the deciding vote in a criminal proceeding against the president who appointed him is the very definition of a conflict of interest. Once Mueller has released his report, and assuming that report exonerates Trump, then he can appoint all the judges he wants.

Demand that any future meetings Trump has with foreign leaders include at least one cabinet member to be in attendance, and that cabinet member must, under oath, testify before Congress as to what was discussed. The problem with the Helsinki summit wasn't so much Trump's embarrassing press conference, it's what may have been said in private to Putin. We have no way of knowing what shit-for-brains may have agreed to because the only people present in the room, apart from both leaders, were the interpreters. There may not even be a transcript of the discussion. That can never happen again.

Issue a joint statement reaffirming our commitment to NATO.  And along with that statement, both houses could pass a bill requiring that any changes in troop strength or funding for the alliance be approved by a two-thirds majority in both chambers. Just in case Trump has any plans to cede Europe to Putin, this would preempt them. Even if it isn't legally binding, it's better than watching this screwball play with Europe like he's playing a game of RISK.

Take away his ability to impose tariffs as long as he's in office. Thanks to the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the president has the authority to impose trade tariffs through executive order. But Congress could rescind that authority by passing another bill with a veto-proof majority requiring that any proposed tariffs would need to get Congressional approval before being imposed.

Pass legislation requiring Congressional authority to launch nuclear weapons. While this may be last on the list, it is hardly least. And given his rhetoric towards North Korea and just about anyone else that sets him off - Canada, Mexico, China, Europe, Antarctica, etc... - this should be a no-brainer. It's nothing short of an embarrassment to acknowledge that you can't trust your own president with the nuclear football, but it's a helluva lot better than letting Dr. Strangelove start World War III.