Saturday, April 21, 2018

Life In A Post-Trump America

Joe Scarborough thinks Donald Trump won't run in 2020. Progressives want their candidates to commit to impeaching him if Dems take back the House this year. Political pundits are speculating when, not if, Rod Rosenstein and / or Robert Mueller will be fired. And meanwhile, in New York's Southern District, Trump's own attorney might end up taking him down.

But here's the thing that everyone is missing. Whether Trump gets impeached, or he chooses not to run for reelection, or he's defeated in 2020, this country will have one helluva time putting the pieces back together after he's gone. Whoever the next president is - be it a Democrat or Republican - he or she will spend a considerable portion of their term cleaning up the mess Trump will leave behind. You can count on that.

I recently asked a friend who's a Trump supporter one simple question. What would you call a person who believes the entire government is somehow conspiring against this president? That everyone is out to get him and only he and his supporters know the truth? I can tell you what I and many people like me would call that person: paranoid. But for approximately 35 percent of the country - perhaps more - this is their reality. The deep state is out to get Trump: the media, the FBI, the courts, the entire intelligence community, everyone. If you think his rallies are over the top, just imagine what these people would do if he were to be removed from office. Carnage doesn't begin to describe it.

But it isn't just his supporters who are living in an alternate universe. At least one third of House Republicans think that the real investigation should be about Hillary Clinton and her damned emails. On Fox News, some commentators have even called for her impeachment. I swear I'm not making that up; apparently these dim bulbs don't know she isn't the president. Trump, himself, has tweeted about how the Justice Department should be indicting his political enemies.

And just in case you think this madness is confined to the lunatics on the Right, it isn't. Some on the Left have been equally afflicted. When I wrote recently that Democrats needed to reach out to Trump voters, I was taken to task by someone who, in no uncertain terms, said "screw" them. He wasn't alone. Most of the posts I've read on Facebook from progressives are not just decidedly anti Trump; they're decidedly anti Trump voter. Because nothing screams we'd like to retake the White House better than telling one third of the country to go fuck itself.

What's going on in this country would confound Freud himself. It's more than just pathological; it borders on neurosis. So divided are we as a people that regardless of what happens with the Russia investigation, a good chunk of us will simply choose not to believe it. On one side you have conspiracy nuts who believe the government is out to get them; on the other you have people who are consumed by their rage. And over in Russia you have Vladimir Putin saying, "Mission accomplished."

Think about it: the country that defeated imperial England to win its independence, the country that survived a bloody civil war, not to mention two costly world wars and a cold war that almost resulted in nuclear Armageddon, looks more like the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest than the greatest nation on earth.

Friendships have ended and families have stopped talking to each other because of this man. The damage he has done will take years to repair, assuming that it's even repairable. And that's just the population. Institutions like the State Department may well take over a decade to fully recover. As for our standing among nations, well some wounds may never heal. Already Angela Merkel is being heralded as the leader of the free world. The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves.

After he pardoned Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford announced to a weary nation that America's long national nightmare was finally over. Many Trump haters have taken that as their mantra of hope for 2020. But let me be clear here. If Trump does in fact get defeated in 2020, or if he's impeached before that, it won't be the end of our long national nightmare. It'll be the beginning of the biggest reclamation project this republic has ever witnessed or endured, and that includes the Reconstruction era.

Get your shovels and brooms ready, people. Because the shit's gonna be knee deep.

Friday, April 20, 2018

James Comey Is No Hero!

I think it's time I got a few things off my chest regarding former FBI Director James Comey. Was he inappropriately fired by Donald Trump? Yes. Was Trump guilty of obstruction of justice for firing him in order to stop the Russia investigation into his campaign and administration? Is the Pope Catholic?

But even allowing for all that it seems to me that an awful lot of people on the Left are rushing to Comey's defense and calling him a man of great integrity and morals. Some of them have even flirted with words like hero to describe him. Pardon me while I throw up in my mouth.

You've got to be kidding me, people. Whatever else you may think of Trump - and believe me, I've thought of it all - James Comey is NO hero. What he is is a self-aggrandizing man who, in all likelihood, was responsible for throwing the 2016 presidential election to the man who eventually fired him. That IS the very definition of poetic justice.

Ask the Clintons what they think of Comey's book and sideshow tour. Ask the scores of FBI agents who are watching their former boss parade himself on CNN like Taylor Swift. Watch the Jake Tapper interview if you dare. I was somewhere between less than impressed to downright aggravated. I came away thinking if Comey ever decides to run for office he'd make a wonderful politician regardless of which party he joins. He can spin with the best of them, and he certainly has done a number on the media.

Let's dispense with the bull and get down to the heart of the matter. I really don't care that Comey made fun of Trump's hands or facial tone. Who hasn't? Nor is it all that revelatory that the book confirmed what every political pundit and human being with half a brain already knew: that Trump is morally and ethically unfit for office. To quote the late, great comedian Richard Pryor: "Well tell us something we don't know, mother fucker." What irks me most about the book concerns his conduct in 2016.

In the summer of that year, Comey delivered his famous "no reasonable prosecutor" speech regarding Hillary Clinton's email server. Straight up, there was no way Comey should've said a word about that investigation - and it was an investigation. The FBI doesn't conduct matters. What Comey should've done is present his report to the Justice Department. With Loretta Lynch compromised due to her ill-conceived meeting with Bill - beyond stupid - the report would've been given to then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. It was Yates's job, not Comey's, to announce the findings. What Comey did was a breach of etiquette. And that's putting it mildly.

Remember the indictments of the 13 Russian nationals back in February? Notice who was standing at the podium making the announcement? It wasn't Robert Mueller, the Special Prosecutor. It was Rod Rosenstein, the current Deputy Director of the Justice Department. That's because it's the Justice Department that actually issues indictments, not investigators or FBI Directors. The DOJ acts on the information that is given to it, but it never cedes its authority. Why else do you think Trump is so angry at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigation? Because even that pee brain of his gets it that the Justice Department is where the power is. Control it and you pretty much can do whatever the hell you want.

But as bad as that brain fart was, it was not the most egregious thing Comey did. No, he saved that precious gem for his October surprise. Eleven days before the country went to the polls to vote, Clark Kent decided to let the world know that the FBI had uncovered some emails off of Anthony Weiner's laptop that had links to Hillary. Of course, no one knew whether those emails were simply copies of earlier emails that had already been investigated, but the cat had been let out of the bag. Once more the email server was front and center. Clinton's poll numbers, which were already beginning to show some slippage, sank like a rock. The RCP average showed her dropping from a high of 7.1 points on October 18th all the way down to 2.9 points just before the election. In the toss-up states, the race was a statistical dead heat. Nobody goes that far south so quickly, not without some help.

Comey's "explanation" for why he did what he did might very well go down as the most lame rationale ever put forth by a law enforcement official. This is what he wrote in his book:
"It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls, but I don't know."
Okay, two things: First, it was not Comey's job to take into consideration whether a particular candidate was up in the polls or to worry about what might happen to that candidate if they were to be elected. He was the FBI Director, not her campaign manager; as such he should've been apolitical.

Secondly, Comey violated DOJ protocols and norms by announcing that the FBI was reopening its case into Clinton's email server so close to an election. You just don't do that, especially if, as he stated in his letter to Congress, the case was "unrelated" and he wasn't sure whether the material uncovered on Weiner's laptop would be "significant." It's kind of like a company that is considering whether to hire someone suddenly finding out that a person matching the description of their applicant was arrested. Even if they find out later that it was a different person, there's no way to tell what impact that might've had on their decision.

It's true that millions of Americans had already made up their minds about Clinton prior to October 28th; but there were still quite a few who hadn't and were on the fence. Comey's irresponsible actions, for all intents and purposes, gave them a reason to jump off that fence and vote for Trump. Perhaps most of them didn't, but from what the polls revealed, some did. And that might very well have been the whole ballgame.

I have been reluctant in the past to assign blame to Comey for Clinton's election loss in 2016. Most of that was based on the fact that she did run one of the worst political campaigns in modern history. And we still don't fully know to what extent Putin's interference may have played a role. I continue to maintain she was a flawed and, at times, arrogant candidate who had her fair share of missteps, not the least of which was her decision not to visit Wisconsin once.

But that aside, Comey's reckless behavior and his failure to take any personal responsibility for what occurred as a result of that behavior is beyond the pale. He not only owes Clinton an apology, but the entire nation one as well.

To repeat, James Comey is no hero. And when history is done with him, I suspect what's left of his tarnished reputation will be consigned to its ash heap.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

To Pee Or Not To Pee

So GOP lawmakers are "befuddled" by Donald Trump's decision to not impose additional sanctions on Russia. They can't understand why he threw his U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley under the bus for announcing on Face the Nation that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was all set to impose those sanctions.

Really? You're befuddled? Befuddled by what? A president who has publicly attacked just about everyone on the planet who publicly criticized him, yet for some reason has heaped all kinds of praise on the one man the entire intelligence community has concluded interfered with the 2016 presidential election? That president? I submit that if you can't understand what's going on here, why a president - any president - would deliberately cut the legs out from their own U.N. ambassador and leave her out to dry then you and I must be living on a different planet.

I'm not one to go gutter with this president. There are more than enough legitimate reasons to criticize Trump without sinking to that level. But I'm starting to believe that, apart from the potential money laundering charges that Mueller must be working on, there might be another, far more embarrassing, scandal that Trump would just as soon not be made public.

The infamous pee tape, loath though I am to bring up, has got to be real. Think about it: this is a guy who cheated on his first wife with his second wife; then cheated on his second wife with his third; then, while his third wife was pregnant, had an affair with both a porn star and a Playboy bunny. And yet it's an "alleged" pee tape that's got his panties all in a bunch?

You know Trump is sweating this one out. Ever since his conciliary's office got raided, he's gone to a whole new level of unhinged. Michael Cohen may not have that tape, but I'll lay odds the two of them talked about it on more than one occasion. If those conversations were ever made public, that orange face of Trump would turn a permanent shade of red.

And here's the thing: Putin knows he's got Trump by the balls. Screw the oligarchs, anytime old Vlad wants to get the attention of his apprentice all he has to do is threaten retaliatory measures and the great deal maker folds like a cheap deck chair. And what were those retaliatory measures? Putin threatened to ban some U.S. exports. The moment Trump caved, old mother Russia "delayed" the ban. See how that works? We say we're going to punish Russia, Putin says "I don't think so" and Trump has a change of heart.

Remember that SNL skit with Putin in the audience holding up a tape marked "Pee Pee" after Alec Baldwin's Trump said Russia probably meddled in the election? Remember how quickly Trump changed his tune once he saw the tape? Yes, it was funny, but it was also very alarming. We've had a lot of comedy sketches over the years on presidents from Nixon to George Bush, but we've never had one in which a foreign adversary was actually blackmailing him. This is truly historic.

What we are witnessing here is a compromised president in the Oval Office and a hostile government with absolutely no compunction whatsoever about exerting every bit of leverage it has over him. The time for laughing is over; the time for action is at hand.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Not All Fascists Have Funny Mustaches

Madeleine Albright's new book, "Fascism: A Warning," paints a rather alarming portrait not only of Donald Trump, but of the world in general. She writes,
If we think of fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab.
 In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Albright elaborates further,
Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident. We may be encouraged that most people in most countries still want to live freely and in peace, but there is no ignoring the storm clouds that have gathered. In fact, fascism — and the tendencies that lead toward fascism — pose a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II. 
Warning signs include the relentless grab for more authority by governing parties in Hungary, the Philippines, Poland and Turkey — all United States allies. The raw anger that feeds fascism is evident across the Atlantic in the growth of nativist movements opposed to the idea of a united Europe, including in Germany, where the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland has emerged as the principal opposition party. The danger of despotism is on display in the Russia of Vladimir Putin — invader of Ukraine, meddler in foreign democracies, accused political assassin, brazen liar and proud son of the K.G.B. Putin has just been re-elected to a new six-year term, while in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, a ruthless ideologue, is poised to triumph in sham balloting next month. In China, Xi Jinping has persuaded a docile National People’s Congress to lift the constitutional limit on his tenure in power.
While Albright is careful not to accuse Trump of being a fascist, she does refer to him as "the most undemocratic president" in American history, which is quite a statement, given that Richard Nixon once occupied the Oval Office.

Critics of Albright would say she is being hyperbolic in her assertions. But I would say, given what we've seen from this president and the effect he has had in this country and across the globe, Albright may have hit the nail on the head.

One of the problems I see in trying to figure out Trump is that he doesn't seem to fit into any paradigm of known political figures. If we simply examine his past, he's primarily been a reality TV star with a flare for some rather eccentric statements. Prior to the election of Barack Obama, Trump described himself as a Democrat. He was more attuned to the liberal New York media, concerned only with ratings and buying up as much property as he could. As a businessman, he's had a sordid past, filing for bankruptcy six times and being the subject of several high-profile lawsuits.

But then he developed nativist tendencies during the Obama years. He became a birther and stoked fears within the alt-right to a fever pitch. He adopted a populist message during the 2016 campaign that resonated with a cross-section of the American electorate, which led to a surprising upset of Hillary Clinton.

But it has been his affinity for despots and his constant berating of established institutions like the free press and the justice system since he assumed office that has worried constitutional scholars the most. He may come across as a spoiled brat desperately in need of a time out, but the manner in which he chooses his words on Twitter suggests a far more sinister plot is at work here.

In an interview on The View, Albright referenced Mussolini, who once said that if you pluck a chicken one feather at a time nobody notices. When I think of Trump, the picture that comes to mind isn't so much a chicken getting plucked, but rather a constant drip, drip, drip effect. In short, Trump has so thoroughly pushed the envelope of accepted norms that one gets exhausted just keeping up with him.

And that may in fact be the method to his madness. Trump and his cohorts are counting on most of us becoming so weary of his antics that we ignore what's going on in the background, e.g., the systematic dismantling of the State Department, the politicalization of the Justice Department, the rollbacks of regulations and rewriting of laws that would otherwise act as a check on his authority. It is one thing to get into a Twitter war with the "failing" New York Times; it is quite another to change the libel laws, as he has threatened doing on more than one occasion.

There has been this temptation to simply brand Trump as some run of the mill narcissist who got lucky at just the right moment in American history; a man with no moral compass, bereft of any ideals or values; the consummate transactional president who lacks the intellectual curiosity to appreciate the enormity of the position he now holds. And to a large extent that is true.

But equally true is the fact that Trump, for all his depraved bombast, exhibits fascist tendencies that are every bit as reprehensible as those of his contemporaries like Putin in Russia and Kim in North Korea. He is to this century what Mussolini and Hitler were to theirs. The only thing separating Trump from a complete takeover of power is the incredible resiliency of the United States Constitution. And for that we can thank the Founders.

Not all fascists have funny mustaches; some just have incredibly bad combovers. Madeleine Albright understands that. And so should we.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Will Michael Cohen End Up Being Trump's Monica Lewinski?

Back in the 1990s, then President Bill Clinton found himself in the middle of the toughest legal challenge of his life. Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr had been appointed in '94 to investigate the Whitewater scandal. Starr thought he had enough evidence to recommend to Congress that Clinton be impeached for perjury.

However, the House didn't have the votes to impeach. It looked as though Clinton was home free; that is until the Monica Lewinski scandal broke in January of '98. Clinton swore up and down that he didn't have an affair with Lewinski. Unfortunately, one of the people he swore up and down to was Starr under oath.

And that's how old Bill got impeached by the House of Representatives. Not from Whitewater, but from a blowjob in the oval office. Only some last-minute deals with Senate Republicans saved him from being the first president to be convicted and forced out of office.

Fast forward twenty years and we find another president, Donald Trump, embroiled in his own scandal. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller has been tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and to find out who may have conspired with them. So far, several members of Trump's campaign and administration have been charged.

Legal experts have opined as to whether Trump himself may be guilty of obstruction of justice because of his firing of FBI Director James Comey and his constant undermining of Mueller and the entire Russia investigation. At this point no one knows what Mueller will recommend when he makes his report. It may well be that he concludes that while Trump's judgment was poor, there's insufficient evidence to impeach him for obstruction or collusion, the latter I've maintained was a difficult case to make from the start.

But like Clinton before him, it turns out Trump's life is about to get a lot more complicated. That's because of the FBI raid on Michael Cohen's office and apartment. Yes, technically Cohen is Trump's personal attorney, but then Tom Hagen was Vito Corleone's attorney. The law is well established: when a lawyer crosses the line from that of traditional lawyer to that of mediator or, as Cohen likes to call himself, fixer, attorney-client privilege does not apply.

Which means all those documents and taped conversations involving Trump that were in the possession of Cohen, and are now in the possession of the FBI, could well become the noose that ends up hanging Trump. Imagine that, it was a blowjob from Lewinski that did Clinton in and here we are two decades later and Trump's own attorney might end up screwing him. Poetic justice doesn't begin to describe it.

And the irony of ironies is that Robert Mueller wasn't the one who authorized the raid. That authorization came from a Trump-appointed attorney in New York's Southern District. That means even if Trump fires Mueller, the evidence obtained from Cohen's files can still be used against Trump.

From a blowjob to a royal screwing. Like I've always said, you can't make this shit up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Big Fat Nothing

I've been thinking about what to write about Paul Ryan and I keep coming up with nothing. Then it hit me. That about sums up his entire speakership: A big fat nothing.

Since he arrived in Washington as a brash, young congressman in 1999, Ryan has had this reputation as a numbers guy. Forget all the Ayn Rand fixations, it was his penchant for budgets that made him the darling of the Right. Never mind that his numbers never added up, or that part of his calculus was privatizing Social Security and block granting Medicare. Behind that innocent smile lurked someone capable of stealing the kids candy and popping their balloons.

Since taking over as Speaker of the House from John Boehner, Ryan has done virtually nothing to advance any meaningful legislation, and by meaningful I mean legislation that actually had a chance of becoming law. Like his predecessor, he was unable to corral the various factions within his conference, including the Freedom Caucus. Bills that did manage to pass in the House did so strictly along party lines and almost always died a gruesome death once they got to the upper chamber.

Say what you want about Mitch McConnell, but he runs the Senate. It's the other way around for Ryan in the House. Even the one legislative accomplishment that the GOP managed to squeak through - the tax bill this past December - was nothing but a giant giveaway to the very special interests that allowed Ryan to hold onto his speakership. Far from the reform it was touted as being, this monstrosity of a law will swell the deficit in the years to come and screw millions of hard-working middle class families.

This is Paul Ryan's legacy to his party and to the country. A man bereft of any real ideas, beholden to a bankrupt ideology and unable to stand up to the extremist elements that have now completely taken over the GOP. Not only is he abandoning the ship he helped wreck; his decision not to run for reelection means that a white supremacist will most likely win the Republican primary for his seat. And that almost guarantees that Democrats will flip that district in November. I say almost because with the Democrats anything is possible; even losing to someone more racist than Trump.

So, bon voyage, Boy Wonder, and good luck in your new career as a lobbyist. Who knows, maybe John Boehner could use some help in his quest to make marijuana legal. Based on the budgets you submitted, I'd say you were probably already smoking it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Shit Just Hit the Fan

The chickens haven't just come home to roost; they're laying their eggs smack dab in the middle of the living room. The news that Michael Cohen's business and private residence was raided by the FBI is a seismic development in the Russia investigation. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post is right: Donald Trump has never been in more trouble than he is now.

But while it is "rare" indeed to breach the attorney-client privilege, as this warrant clearly does, Cohen is not your typical attorney and Trump is not your typical client. Think Tom Hagen / Vito Corleone, only in this case worse. No one knows more about Trump than Cohen and now the FBI knows everything he knows. So how did we get here?

First off, this raid was NOT conducted by Robert Mueller. Instead what happened was that Mueller had reason to suspect that Cohen might have committed a crime. He went to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, his boss, who directed him to refer the case to the attorney in the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, who just happens to be a Trump appointee. Irony abounds. Berman was convinced enough to ask a judge for a warrant, and that judge obviously saw probable cause to issue one.

This was not an attack on our country, as President Bumbledore claimed. It was, if anything, proof that the system is actually working. Despite Trump's attempts at obstruction and his contempt for the rule of law, the Department of Justice is doing its job, as are the other institutions like the press and media. Trump may have an affinity for dictators and banana republics, but he hasn't, as of yet, dismantled the checks and balances that still govern this nation.

And that means that Trump now has no other choice but to either stand by and watch Mueller make the case for impeachment or fire him. And since he can't fire him directly, he will be forced to fire Rosenstein and find someone, anyone, who will remove Mueller. There are a few legal experts who think that Trump may have the authority to end the Special Counsel regulation. If that's so, Trump could then fire Mueller without going through Rosenstein.

As for the political fallout, as I pointed out in an earlier piece, Trump doesn't care about any of that. Even it costs his party control of Congress, the only thing that matters to him is his own hide. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if he lets Cohen twist in the wind. Imagine screwing the one guy who's already on record as saying he'd take a bullet for you. With friends like Trump who needs enemies?

But here's the thing. It may already be too late to stop this freight train. Remember this raid was carried out under the supervision of an attorney for the Southern District of New York, not the special prosecutor. Firing Mueller does nothing to impede that case. If the FBI finds evidence that Cohen broke the law, nothing short of a presidential pardon can keep him from going to prison. And even if Trump does pardon him, he will most likely be disbarred, meaning his career as an attorney is over.

It's sad that everyone who gets involved with this president ends up having their reputations tarnished or destroyed. Almost makes you wonder why anyone would agree to work for someone like that.

It also makes you wonder why anyone would bother to vote for him.