Friday, July 21, 2017

Did Trump Inadvertently Admit To Money Laundering?

In one of the most bizarre and chilling interviews he's ever given, Donald Trump threw Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the bus and threatened to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Okay, nothing new here. Trump has been pissed at Sessions ever since he recused himself from the Russia investigation, and everyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the last two months knows full well that he's been toying with the idea of getting rid of Mueller from the day he was appointed by Rod Rosenstein.

And I think we can also take it as a given that Trump, as reported by The Washington Post, is exploring the possibility of pardoning himself and his family in the event that Mueller hits pay dirt. Look, he's fired everyone who's questioned or challenged him; now that he has the power of the pardon, why wouldn't he use it?

But there was one point in the 51 minute interview by The New York Times that caught my attention; something so small and seemingly insignificant I almost missed it. As with anything Trump says, you have to listen to it three times. The first time just to convince yourself that you heard what he actually said. He's all over the place. It's like listening to someone suffering from Tourette's Syndrome.

The second time to try to make sense of his train of thought. Imagine if you will what a puzzle looks like after you've thrown it up in the air and it lands on the floor. That's a Donald Trump speech or interview. Parsing through his words takes the skill of linguist.

And then there's the third time. This is where you've managed to compartmentalize all his scatter-brain thoughts and pull out the relevant items. Kinda like reviewing your wife's food shopping list looking for the nachos and the salsa in between the paper plates and napkins. Well, guess what? I think I found the nachos and the salsa. At least I think I did.

Near the end of the interview, Trump is asked by Michael Schmidt that if it was discovered that Mueller was looking at his family's finances would that be a red line, and this is Trump's reply:
I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk].
Did you catch it? It was sitting right there in front of me and I had to listen to it again just to be certain. "I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?"

There's a condo or something? I sell a lot of condos? Somebody from Russia? Are you fucking kidding me? You know, the problem with compulsive liars is that eventually they slip up and inadvertently let out the truth. Who knows what was going on in Trump's head at that precise moment? A trained psychiatrist would be hard-pressed to answer that question, but from what little we do know, it's obvious he had what can only described as a brain fart.

For those of you who are scratching your heads, let me explain. Trump made his fortune - such as it is - in real estate. After his fourth bankruptcy, most banks wouldn't lend him money. In fact, Deutsche Bank was the only one that would. According to a piece in Vanity Fair, "Trump over the last 20 years has received more than $4 billion in loan commitments and potential bond offerings from the German lender, despite suing the company in 2008 when he fell behind on payments on the $640 million loan he was given to build Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago."

It goes on to say,
Apart from the Trumps and Kushners, Deutsche Bank also has deep ties to Russia. In addition to settling allegations earlier this year that it allowed $10 billion to be laundered out of Eastern Europe, Deutsche Bank had a “cooperation agreement” with Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-owned development bank that is the target of U.S. economic sanctions. Vnesheconombank, for those who need a refresher, was the bank whose chief executive, Sergey Gorkov, Jared Kushner forgot to mention meeting in December. Oh, and there’s also this:
. . . in May, federal prosecutors settled a case with a Cyprus investment vehicle owned by a Russian businessman with close family connections to the Kremlin. The firm, Prevezon Holdings, was represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who was among the people who met during the presidential campaign with Donald Trump Jr. about Hillary Clinton. Federal prosecutors in the United States claimed Prevezon, which admitted no wrongdoing, laundered the proceeds of an alleged Russian tax fraud through real estate. Prevezon and its partner relied in part on $90 million in financing from a big European financial institution, court records show. It was Deutsche Bank.

There's that word real estate again. You see, this is where the horses come back into the barn. It is widely known that Russian oligarchs were looking for places to hide their money and real estate became a very safe haven for them. Thursday night on the Rachel Maddow show, Maddow cited a soon to be published story by Timothy O'Brien in Bloomberg News concerning a RICO lawsuit in 2011 involving money laundering. O'Brien writes,
A troubling history of Trump's dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president's own office in Trump Tower.
One of Bayrock's principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the U.S. government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass. 
In a series of interviews and a lawsuit, a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, claims that he eventually departed from the firm because he became convinced that Bayrock was actually a front for money laundering.
Trump has said over the years that he barely knows Sater. In fact, Sater — who former Bayrock employees say met frequently with Trump in the Trump Organization's New York headquarters, once shepherded the president's children around Moscow and carried a Trump Organization business card — apparently has remained firmly in the orbit of the president and his closest advisers. 
Sater made the front page of the New York Times in February for his role in a failed effort — along with Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen — to lobby former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on a Ukrainian peace proposal.
It is obvious that Trump knows full well that Robert Mueller is close to connecting the dots and making the case for impeachment. It should be just as obvious that Trump will stop at nothing to ensure that he and his family get off scot free.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Obamacare Gets A Stay of Execution . . . For Now

With the announcement that Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas have decided to vote "no" on a motion to proceed, there are now four Republican senators who have gone on record as saying they cannot support the healthcare bill "in its current form." Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky are the other two. Mitch McConnell had no choice but to pull the bill. With or without John McCain, he just didn't have the necessary 50 votes to pass it and send it back to the House.

In a desperate, last-ditched effort designed to mollify conservatives, McConnell even introduced a simple repeal only measure, only to be shot down again. This time it was Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia who did the shooting. The Affordable Care Act, for the time being, is still alive, much to the chagrin of Donald Trump, who apparently thinks 48 votes out of a possible 100 is "pretty impressive by any standard." But then this is a man who still thinks getting 306 electoral votes and losing the popular vote by 3 million qualifies as a landslide.

No doubt proponents of the ACA can breath a sigh of relief. For the last few months they've been sweating it out wondering if President Obama's signature piece of legislation was destined for the ash heap of history. But as I cautioned readers last month, this thing isn't dead yet. Trumpcare, or whatever you want to call it, is still on life support. True, things aren't looking good right now for its prospects, and if I were a betting man, I'd say the odds of Obamacare remaining the law of the land are pretty good. I should also point out that, apart from a few notable exceptions, my track record as a betting man isn't all that impressive. So you probably won't see me on a flight to Vegas anytime soon.

But getting back to repeal and replace. The sticking point for the "moderates" appeared to be the phasing out of Medicaid. States that took the Medicaid expansion are deeply concerned about what will happen to both their budgets and to the millions of people who depend on the entitlement for affordable healthcare. The latest CBO puts the number of people who would lose healthcare if the GOP bill became law at over 20 million people. A "yes" vote from these senators would've been extremely hard to justify to their constituents. Even harder to justify would've been an outright repeal with no replacement.

As for the conservatives, anything but a complete and total repeal of Obamacare they viewed as a betrayal of the pledge they took when they ran for office back in 2010. For them, the bill didn't go nearly far enough. Kicking millions of people off of Medicaid isn't cruel, they say; it's called freedom. McConnell tried - unsuccessfully it appears - to thread the needle between both factions ever since Paul Ryan dumped the House bill into his lap.

So this is where we stand. With the August recess just a few weeks away - and that's factoring in the Majority Leader's decision to keep the Senate in session two additional weeks -  Republicans still don't a bill that can get 50 votes. Without passing a healthcare bill that deals with the taxes that Obamacare imposed on the top 2 percent, the prospects of getting tax reform done this year look bleak. In other words, this could be one of the least effective Congresses we've had in years, which isn't saying much given what the GOP has done since it took the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

The sad and undeniable truth is that Republicans are paying dearly for being the party of No for the last eight years. Now that they've got total control over all the functions of government, they seem incapable of governing. So lame is this party that McConnell had to change the rules of the Senate just to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. Can you imagine the clusterfuck that would've occurred if they'd succeeded in an outright repeal of the current healthcare law, only to find out that they need at least 60 votes to pass a new one? Building the pyramids without stones would've been child's play by comparison.

But while the GOP spins its wheels trying to convince the nation that they know what they're doing, Democrats should not sit idly by reveling in their counterparts' misery. What they ought to be doing - and what I've been urging for months - is coming up with the necessary fixes for the law. While the ACA is not even close to being in a death spiral as its harshest critics would have you believe, it is far from perfect. Trump and McConnell, now that they've been thwarted in their attempt to repeal the law, will do their damnedest to tie it around the neck of every Democrat running for office next year. If Dems think they can run simply as the party that opposes Trump and "saved" Obamacare, I've got some bad news for them. That strategy already failed brilliantly. Voters want solutions and a party that doesn't offer any typically loses elections, be they midterm or presidential.

If I were a Democratic senator, I'd get off my butt and mosey on down to the offices of Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Dean Heller, and the few "moderates" still left in the GOP and take them out to lunch. Then at lunch I'd say something like, "Why don't we coauthor a bill to repair the ACA and strengthen it so everyone can have affordable healthcare and we can reduce premiums on middle-class families?" I might even get a yes or two for my efforts and, before you know it, we'd have a bi-partisan solution to a problem that besets both parties.

But then what am I saying? I'm way too smart to be a senator, Democrat OR Republican. So let's just forget it, okay?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Memo To Media: Don't Let Up

Over the last few weeks, as it becomes clearer and clearer that the Russian hacking / collusion scandal is the most grave threat this country has faced quite possibly in its history, there has been a concerted effort by the alt-right media to not only dismiss the scandal as "phony," but to engage in a campaign of misdirection.

For instance, when James Comey testified before the Senate, all the alt-right wanted to talk about was that he confirmed what Donald Trump had said: that he wasn't under investigation. There was hardly any mention of the fact that the majority of his testimony also confirmed what many suspected: that Comey was fired because he wouldn't let the Flynn investigation go. In other words, Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice.

Prior to the revelation that Trump's son met with a Russian official to discuss information about Hillary Clinton, the alt-right was adamant that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. After Junior's emails came out, their stance quickly changed from no collusion to what's the big deal. Everyone colludes, move on.

We even heard from such journalistic stalwarts as Sean Hannity that the real culprit wasn't the Trump campaign but, yeah you guessed it, the Obama Administration, because the Russian attorney who wanted to give Mini Me the goods on Hillary was allowed to enter the country by the Department of Justice. Oh and speaking of Hillary - you know the candidate who actually lost the 2016 election - her campaign supposedly met with Ukrainian officials to get dirt on Trump, so there.

But here's the problem with the alt-right's points: they're completely superfluous. So what if the DOJ allowed a Russian official in? Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak have clearance to be in this country and both are known spies. Just because someone is technically allowed to be in this country doesn't mean it is appropriate to meet with them, nor does it obsolve one of his or her legal responsibility to do the right thing, which in the case of Donnie boy would've meant reporting the incident to the FBI.

And regarding the Clinton campaign's alleged clandestine meeting - and both the DNC and the Clinton campaign vehemently deny it ever took place - it does not even approach the level of the Trump Jr. meeting. For one thing, Ukraine is an ally of the United States, as opposed to Russia, which is anything but. And secondly, the former's meeting concerned Paul Manafort, who was known to have ties with Ukraine. There is no evidence of an orchestrated attack on the Trump campaign by Ukrainian officials, or anyone else for that matter. The Trump Jr. meeting, on the other hand, was part of an on-going effort, directed by Vladimir Putin, to discredit Clinton and help Trump get elected. To even compare the two is asinine.

But the problem here, as it always is in any democratic society, is that once you float an alternative idea, no matter how frivolous it might be, there will always be some who bite on it. And in this age of social media and phony news outlets, all it takes is a little fertilizer and, before you know it, you're knee-deep in a pile of shit.

I can already here the fence sitters. Yeah, sure, Trump Jr. probably shouldn't have met with that Russian attorney, but Hillary is just as bad because her people met with the Ukrainians. This is the same nonsense we heard throughout the 2016 campaign. The old false equivalence theme. One side is caught doing something dozens of times, but since the other side did it a couple of times, it's basically a draw.

Look, I've said my piece about Hillary and her failed campaign. And I've been taken to task for it by some. I'm certainly not going to backtrack here. I stand behind every word I've written about her and her husband Bill. But the idea that she is the moral equivalent of Trump strains the bounds of credibility and belies everything we know about the two. And, to the great consternation of voters who fell for the scam last November, we as a country are now paying a dear price for it.

That is why it is vital to whatever future this country may have that the media not let up or be deterred from doing its job. It cannot fall into the "fair and balanced" trap that Trump and his supporters are setting for them, because there is no fair and balanced argument to be made here. It must resist with all its might any attempts to change the subject or deflect from the truth. Now is the time for stout minds and brave hearts to stiffen their spines and move courageously forward, fortified in their convictions and resistant to any and all threats to their legitimacy.

There will be those who will argue, perhaps with some merit, that there is a saturation effect risk to consider here. If you beat a story to death, they say, it will cease to have relevance. I have no doubt that the risk is real. But I would submit that the alternative - not giving this story the attention it demands - is far riskier. The Trump apologists are certainly not going to let up in their insistence that the Russia scandal is fake news and to give that echo chamber an edge is the very definition of journalistic negligence.

Then there's the other argument that some will make: that the media, in its zeal to cover the Russia scandal, could miss other legitimate news stories, such as the Senate healthcare bill and the recent discovery that the Trump White House published the personal information of people who wrote in protesting the voter fraud commission. Here's my comeback to those who are concerned: Did Eric Sevareid or Walter Cronkite ever worry that their plates were too full? If the media in this country can't walk and chew gum at the same time, we are truly screwed.

No, the only way to get at the truth is be relentless in the pursuit of it. Murrow took on McCarthy; Woodward and Bernstein brought down Nixon. These were great men who did not bow to pressure, but instead stood up to it. And we are all better off for their valiant service.

Back in February I wrote the following:
The threat could not be more real or the challenge more daunting. If the Fourth Estate cannot be the arbiters of truth, if they cannot stand up to this demagogue in the Oval Office, then this marvelous experiment we call democracy is finished. And like another well known, infamous figure of the 20th century, Donald Trump will be our last president and our first dictator.
Six months into this administration and the threat is just as real and the challenge just as daunting.

* An earlier posting of this piece neglected to mention that the alleged meeting between the Clinton campaign and the Ukrainian official has been denied by both the DNC and the Clinton campaign. I have edited the piece accordingly.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trump White House Publishes Private Info Of People Who Complained About Phony Commission

And they say no good deed goes unpunished. In what can only be described as a deliberate act of spiteful intimidation, the Trump White House, after being forced to suspend its campaign to gather voter data from all fifty states due to pending lawsuits, published the private information of people who wrote in to express their concerns over the threat to their privacy.

Fortunately, it seems that none of the main-stream press is publishing the contact information of these people, but that's not the point. Once more, this Administration has shown the lengths it will go to bully its opponents. Throughout the campaign and even after the inauguration, reporters who wrote pieces that were critical of Trump, his family and cabinet members, were the subjects of harassment and, in some instances, outright threats of violence. Trump, himself, has openly boasted that he is looking into the possibility of changing the libel laws of the country so he can sue news publications that write unflattering things about him.

And now he is targeting average people, whose only crime is that they exercised their rights as American citizens to petition their elected leaders. What's next? Forcing clergy to swear an oath of allegiance to his Lord Farquaad? And for those of you who might feel uncomfortable with yet another Nazi analogy, where have you been the last six months? What more evidence do you need to realize that what we are witnessing here isn't just historic, it's frighteningly tragic?

Donald Trump isn't merely attempting to put his stamp on this country; he's attempting to permanently alter the very fabric of it. And he has not been shy about his objectives. If you think this is only about healthcare reform or taxes or regulations or nativism, then you're missing the bigger picture here. Healthcare laws can be rewritten, taxes and regulations reimposed, and travel bans withdrawn. But when a democracy is wounded or destroyed, it is not so easy to repair or rebuild. Just ask the ancient Greeks about that.

It is the overwhelming consensus of American scholars that the framework the Founders put in place in the late eighteenth century can withstand any challenge, even from someone like Trump. I am not nearly as certain. Yes, it is true that our Constitution has far more safeguards in it than the one that failed Germany in 1932, but if history has taught us anything, it is that nothing is etched in stone or is permanent. Unsinkable ships sink, corrupt governments fall, and indifferent and complacent populations are often lulled to their collective dooms.

We should not be so arrogant as to believe that the United States will be spared the same fate that has befallen other, lesser, democracies. If the old business axiom that an organization is only as strong as its weakest link is applicable to governments then we are truly staring at the precipice of history and we have never been as close as we now find ourselves to falling over into that ghastly abyss.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

It's Time for Bob Mueller To Subpoena Trump's Tax Returns

Thanks to the revelation that Mini Me - AKA Donald Trump Jr. - met with a Russian official for the expressed purpose of collecting damaging information on Hillary Clinton in order to help his father win the 2016 election, we now have clear evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This isn't a smoking gun; it's a fucking MX missile.

It does not matter whether the information that Mini Me and his entourage of Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner received turned out to be "much ado about nothing," as Junior said to Trump lackey Sean Hannity. The only thing that matters is what the intent was, and the intent could not be plainer. As any criminal attorney will tell you, intent follows the bullet. If you fire a gun at someone intending to kill them and the bullet kills someone else, you're just as guilty of attempted murder.

Another way of looking at it is this: If you break into a bank intending to rob it and discover the vault is empty, in the eyes of the law you're guilty of attempted robbery. The fact that you didn't come away with any money is irrelevant. And if your attorney is actually dumb enough to present that lame excuse as a defense at your trial, no jury in the world would buy it. And neither should we.

The sheer arrogance of what happened here is what is most appalling. Numb nuts actually had the gall to publish the entire email chain, which without quite realizing it confirms what any first-year law student would know: that he just put his dad and himself in a world of trouble. To quote the New York Post's editorial page of all places, "Don Jr. is why Nigerian email scammers keep trying their luck."

This is an excerpt from the exchange between Rob Goldstone, the man who set up the meeting that took place at Trump Tower, and Trump Jr.

Rob Goldstone: Good morning, Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. 
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin. 
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly? 
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first. 
Trump, Jr.: Thanks Rob, I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back? 

That's it, folks, end of story. In detective novels, this is where the cops show up with the handcuffs and read the suspect his or her rights. This one exchange alone reveals the only two pertinent facts needed. 1. An offer was made to a representative of the Trump campaign by a foreign and hostile government to engage in a conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election; and 2. That offer was accepted by said representative.

Oh, and as to the claim by Donald Sr. that he had no knowledge of the meeting or what took place in it, in a conspiracy the right hand doesn't have to know what the left hand is doing. In other words, ignorance - which seems to be the modus operandi of this White House - will not save dear old dad from the consequences of Junior's actions.

Now more than ever we need to see Trump's tax returns. It's obvious that Putin or some group of Russian oligarchs or both have something on him. Why else would he bend over backwards to soft peddle the greatest threat to our democracy since the British burned down the White House in 1814? Why else would he try to get James Comey to back off an FBI investigation into Michael Flynn and when that failed fire Comey? There can be only reason and I'll bet a month's salary that the answer lies in those damn tax returns.

That's why Bob Mueller must subpoena Trump's returns and review them thoroughly. As Special Counsel he doesn't even have to let the White House know about it. He can just issue it and the IRS would be compelled to comply. Perhaps that's the reason Trump thought about firing Mueller a month ago; he knew that if Mueller ever got his hands on those returns the jig would be up.

This isn't about some flimsy audit that he's under; it's about his connections to Russia. My gut tells me that Trump never expected to win the election and, so long as that was the case, his refusal to release his returns, while brazenly arrogant, posed no risks to him personally. He probably thought Hillary would beat him - a thought shared by the overwhelming majority of pundits and pollsters - and he'd land himself a new reality TV show that would make him a fortune.

But a funny thing happened on the way to that reality TV show. It seems the Russians were a little too effective for their own britches. Coupled with a slightly over zealous Comey and the self-inflicted wounds of the Clinton campaign, Trump eked out a narrow victory. And ever since he was sworn in, he's been sweating bullets over what the press, the Congress, and now Mueller might uncover.

And all I can say is, good. It couldn't happen to a more deserving scumbag.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

For the Last Time Media, Pull the Plug On Trump

There are two ways you can battle a fire. The first is to pour as much water as you can on it in an attempt to dowse the flames. The second is to snuff out the fire by depriving it of oxygen. Both are effective, but the former often results in water damage that renders the property unlivable. The latter may take a bit longer, but preserves the bulk of the property.

For the last two years, the media in this country have been attempting to deal with Donald Trump the way most firefighters deal with fires. They’ve been pouring as much water as possible on his inflammatory rhetoric, hoping to contain him. Not only hasn’t that worked, it’s resulted in a lot of water-soaked journalists who are shaking their heads in disbelief.

Back in February I wrote the following:
Pull the plug. You heard right. The next time this administration holds a press briefing don't show up. Pull your cameras and your microphones from the White House. Let Sean Spicer talk to an empty room for twenty minutes. Breitbart and Infowars can dry hump his leg if they want. Who cares? And don't make the mistake of taking a copy of the minutes. Propaganda is propaganda. Don't devote even one second of programming to anything that he or his brownshirts have to say.

When he holds a rally, don't show up and cover it. He can spew all he wants to the dumb-ass minions who show up and froth at the mouth, but there's no need to give him a larger audience then he deserves. When he boards Air Force One, let him do it alone. He can bore the pilot to death all he wants with his conspiracy theories. There's no need for you to jot down every single syllable that comes out of his mouth. And when he heads off to Mar-a-Lago to play golf, as he has done every weekend since being sworn in, don't follow him onto the course.

So let me make this one final plea to the Fourth Estate: turn off the water and lock down the room. Deprive Trump of the oxygen he needs to spread his venomous rhetoric. It’s your only hope of stopping him.

From the moment he descended that escalator in Trump Tower, Il Duce has made it a point of berating the press. He has called them “fake news” and has harassed reporters whose only crime was holding him accountable for the bullshit he was peddling to the public. But here’s the thing: for all the animosity Trump supposedly holds for the main-stream media, the simple fact is he needs them. Even worse, he’s obsessed with them. That fake cover with his picture on it that appears in his properties? It’s sure as shit ain’t Breitbart. That’s right, it’s none other than Time magazine, one of the supposedly “fake news” contingent that has it in for him. After he fired James Comey, he elected to be interviewed not by Sean Hannity of Fox News, but by Lester Holt of NBC News. If you think that was an accident, than you haven’t been paying attention to this guy.

Throughout his disgusting and deplorable career, Trump has been a media whore. He loves being in the spotlight. Good press, bad press, it’s all the same to him. So long as his name is in circulation that’s all that matters to him. The one thing he can’t deal with is being ignored. It drives him nuts. The reason you will soon start seeing the daily White House press briefings broadcast live in my opinion isn’t because Trump has fallen in love with the media or that he was suddenly hit with a rush of guilt for his reckless behavior, it’s because briefings that are broadcast live on TV bring ratings. And ratings are the only thing Trump truly cares about.

So the best way to hurt Trump – to deprive his fire of the oxygen it needs to consume everything – is to pull the cameras and microphones form the briefing room. When his minions want to come on the cable shows to spin his latest stunt, tell them no thanks, you don’t do infomercials. When or if Trump wants to hold a press conference, inform him that you wish to ask questions of him. If he declines, then decline back.

Nowhere is it written that the press and the media have an obligation to be this president's megaphone to the world. In fact the only obligation they truly have is to the truth. Looking for it at the White House these days is a fool's errand.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trump's Dangerously Effective Speech

A picture is worth a thousand words. Donald Trump, President of the United States, deal maker extraordinaire, sulking all alone while the other 19 heads of the G-20 Summit mingled about and talked to one another. Funny and sad at the same time. Thing is, adults talk to other adults; successful business people talk to other successful business people - ALL the time; and world leaders talk to other world leaders. But then we all know that Trump is neither an adult nor a successful businessman. And, if the last six months are any indication, the only thing Trump has in common with past U.S. presidents is the title that appears before his name. Next to him, George W. Bush was a combination of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

But let's leave all that aside for the moment. If you're waiting for Trump to become an adult, I've got some bad news for you: he hasn't even entered adolescence yet. Given enough time, I'm sure a trained psychologist might be able to determine at what point Trump's development as a child was stunted.

And, while we're at it, let's also put aside the meeting Trump had with Putin in which the former said what an "honor" it was to meet with the latter. Knowing how Trump feels about the Russian president, I'm surprised he didn't French kiss him right there in front of the cameras. I've got bigger fish to fry here.

In Warsaw the other day Trump delivered a speech that Eugene Robinson called "puzzling." With all due respect to Mr. Robinson, there really was nothing puzzling about it. If anything, it was eerily similar to his inaugural address, the one that was supposedly given in front of a record crowd that nobody could see. It was dark, foreboding and ominous. Pure Trumpian, to coin my new phrase for his speeches. Here's a small sample of what I mean.
"The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? 
"I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph."
Robinson asked, "Triumph over whom?" A logical question, I'm sure, but one that is ultimately irrelevant. In the mind of the despot, triumph is never the goal, because triumphing means a conclusion to the battle and the battle can never be concluded. There's always an enemy out there somewhere that threatens the state that must be conquered.

That's how you seize and hold onto power, by constantly reinforcing the danger posed by outside threats to "our way of life." And, let's be clear here, it's always an outsider looking to destroy all that is good and pure about the homeland. Why? Simple, outsiders make easy villains. The Irish and Chinese of the early twentieth century; the Japanese during World War II; and now the Muslims in the post 9/11 era. All of these "villains" have been used at one time or another to stoke fear within the general public. Demigods capitalize on that fear to wield power over a country. In the 1930s, Hitler used the fear of the Jews to seize power in Germany. The result was the Holocaust which led to the extinction of six million innocent people.

But in order to be effective, the public must be kept in a constant state of fear and anxiety. There can be no let up, no hinting that it was all a scam. Like in The Wizard of Oz, they can never see that the bumbling old oaf behind the curtain and the menacing Great and Powerful Oz are one in the same. Once that happens, the jig is up. Dorothy wakes up in her bed and the nightmare is at last over.

Vladimir Putin rose to power primarily because of massive corruption within the Russian government. He promised the country he would restore the greatness it once had and that the people would finally be proud to call themselves Russians. By consolidating his authority over the beauracrcy, demonizing all outsiders, putting an end to dissent of any kind and, this is important, undermining the press and media throughout the country, Putin became the absolute ruler of all of Russia.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It many ways, it was a precursor to how Trump rose to power in this country. He capitalized on the political corruption that existed, and still does, within Washington politics, won the GOP nomination, despite not really being a Republican, and then won the presidency by vowing to "Make America Great." The inference being that somehow it wasn't. And all throughout his campaign, and in the months since the election, Trump has made it his life's mission to go after the press, which he calls "fake news." His constant belittling of it has had deleterious effects not just for the main-stream media, but the entire institution itself.

Both men have one thing in common: neither likes being criticized. In Russia, people who dare to criticize Putin have a way of turning up dead; in the United States, Trump is limited by the restraints of a Constitution that prevents any such fate from befalling his critics. But by going after the media the way he does, Trump hopes to eliminate the one institution capable of holding his feet to the fire. It sure as hell ain't the GOP.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. In a country where the press and the media are no longer the vanguards of truth, is there such a thing as truth at all? The reason this is such an important question is that in Russia, Putin's popularity is at 80 percent. That didn't happen by accident nor was it accomplished overnight. For all intents and purposes, there is no opposition press to speak of in Russia. He controls the entire apparatus. He has the final say on what gets published and what goes on the air.

Trump doesn't have it quite that easy, but with the combination of his endless assaults on the press and the rise of alternative media outlets like Breitbart and InfoWars, Trump is attempting to level the playing field. Without actually having to seize control of the media, he can effectively neuter it. A recent survey said that when it came to who was more trustworthy, CNN or Trump, CNN came out on top. But the spread was only 7 points. Imagine being only 7 points more trustworthy than someone who's told more lies than a juvenile delinquent. How much longer do you think it'll be before the poll shows an even split?

In a country where the press is no longer trusted as a reliable source of information, Trump can make any claim he wishes and he can ostensibly get away with it. He can say the sky is pink and at least half the country will agree with him. If he manages to appoint one more justice to the Supreme Court, and if the Republicans retain control of the House, he will have virtual carte blanche to do whatever the hell he feels like doing. The special counsel? Okay, let's say Robert Mueller finds that Trump was guilty of obstruction, so what? Do you honestly believe the GOP would do anything about it? As I wrote earlier, this isn't 1974. Face it, we're stuck with Trump for at least the next three and a half years, probably more.

The only question remaining to be answered is what kind of country will we be when he finally leaves office? That's why his speech was so dangerous and effective. The people he's directing it to are afraid and Trump aims to keep them that way. A people who are frightened are far more likely to be tolerant of offensive and unacceptable behavior from their leaders if they feel those leaders are protecting them from dangers both foreign and domestic. Trump ran on a platform that said he and only he could turn things around. In their view, he's simply delivering on his promise.

We've never had anyone like Donald Trump as president in this country. Oh, we've had some beauts throughout our history, but none of them could hold a candle to Trump. He is the ultimate demigod, the consummate snake oil salesman pulling off the perfect con on a vulnerable and susceptible electorate. And he has the ultimate weapons at his disposal: a weak and ineffectual media, a corrupt political system, a disillusioned Left and a determined Right. That is the perfect storm for an opportunist like Trump.

If ever there was an appropriate time to pray for this nation, now would be it. The souls of our Founding Fathers and the greatest experiment in representative democracy in history are depending on it.