Saturday, December 30, 2017

Why 2018 Will Be Worse Than 2017


There's no way to sugarcoat this: The presidency of Donald Trump has cast a pall over everything. His demeaning of the media by calling it fake news is a threat to the very notion of a free and independent press. The way he and his supporters have attacked the integrity of Robert Mueller and the FBI reveals a flagrant contempt for authority and the rule of law that we see only in banana republics headed by dictators. The manner in which he has systematically decimated departments and agencies like State, Justice and the EPA will take years to repair. The provocative rhetoric he has used with respect to North Korea has made a tense situation considerably more precarious and pushed the world closer to the brink of nuclear war. Add in the child-like Twitter rants at all hours of the day and night and you have a pretty convincing case for 2017 being the worst year for the country since the days of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

And while the optimist in me would like to believe that we've reached the bottom of the trough and that happier days are just around the corner, the sad truth is that I don't think we're anywhere near the bottom yet. As bad as 2017 was, 2018 promises to be considerably worse. Here's why.

The so-called "fake news" has done an incredible job uncovering links between the Trump campaign and Russia for over a year, and as those stories continue to get published, this president will ratchet up his attacks. The "alternative" media - which includes everything from Fox News to practically the entire AM radio dial - will fabricate false narratives to counteract the main-stream media's stories. The result will be a completely fractured nation where one part believes the truth, while the other will hunker down in its bubble and cling to an alternative reality. In such a scenario, truth is often divorced from facts and becomes subjective. That's how Democracies become dictatorships, and it's exactly what Trump wants for America.

I am deeply concerned about the Russia investigation; not its integrity, mind you, but the constant barrage of attacks from this White House and Congressional Republicans are starting to gain traction with Trump's supporters. Many people have speculated that this president will attempt to fire Mueller. In fact, just before Christmas I wrote that Trump might take advantage of the Holiday recess to pull the trigger. It now seems more likely that, rather than fire him, Trump and his pack of syncopates will attempt to discredit him so that if he comes back in a few months with evidence of collusion and / or obstruction of justice he will be so weakened by the barrage of attacks, that any attempt to bring impeachment charges will fail. The fact that House Republicans are thinking about "wrapping up" their investigations is very troubling.

When Steve Bannon said the goal of the Trump Administration was to "deconstruct" the administrative state, most had no idea what he meant. Many Republicans took it to mean undoing the regulations of the Obama Administration and, naturally, slashing taxes. That was certainly part of it. But after looking at what's happened at the State Department, Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, it is now all too clear what the real goal is. These departments and agencies are being gutted of career employees and thus rendered almost virtually useless for the sole purpose of eliminating any check on executive overreach.

The unwillingness to fill key positions at State has severely hampered our ability to reach diplomatic solutions and has jeopardized long-standing relationships among our allies. Over at the DOJ, the firing of 46 attorneys in March, including Preet Bharara, and the appointment of partisan hacks sent a signal loud and clear that justice was for sale. With the mass exodus of over two hundred scientists, the EPA has become little more than a rubber stamp for virtually every polluter in the country. And the undermining by this president of our intelligence community has made the United States the laughing stock of the world and left it vulnerable to an attack.

This deconstruction of the administrative state shows no sign of abating in 2018. If anything, it's likely to intensify. Trump seems perfectly willing and able to go to any length to get rid of anyone that challenges his authority. And if he can't eliminate them, he'll settle for destroying their reputations. Small wonder he's infatuated with Putin. These two deserve a private room together.

But that's not the thing that makes me most worried about 2018. If you haven't already read Trump's most recent New York Times interview by Michael Schmidt, you should. But be forewarned, it's the sort of interview that could cause a rapid evacuation of your bowels.. That's because der Fuhrer picked a rather inopportune time to REALLY let his hair down and get a few things off his chest. It wasn't just his rather unusual and unique take on the limits of executive authority, which in Trump's universe is an oxymoron, that was alarming. Nor was it his flirtation with the truth, which occurs about as often as a solar eclipse. It was his complete incoherence. In short, the man was totally off his rocker. Witness these chilling excerpts.
But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

Yeah, China. … China’s been. … I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China. You know that. The presentations. … One of the great two days of anybody’s life and memory having to do with China. He’s a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him, we have a great chemistry together. He’s [inaudible] of the United States. …[Inaudible.] China’s hurting us very badly on trade, but I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. O.K.?

We’re going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and we’re being respected again. But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.” O.K.
In those three paragraphs we have the essence of Trump: 1. He's the most knowledgeable person in the room; 2. He's desperate for approval; and 3. He's convinced that without him everything would fall apart. He's the consummate narcissist, an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, as a friend of mine put it.

And this narcissist with the impulse control of a six-year old is the commander in chief with access to the nuclear launch codes. The paranoia of Richard Nixon, the intellectual curiosity of George W. Bush and the moral turpitude of Andrew Jackson all rolled into one. Humility is as far from him as Pluto is from the Sun. There is no one - not his daughter, not John Kelly, not anyone - who can speak truth to him. He's a Freudian's wet dream and our worst nightmare. And we're stuck with him for the next three years.

So, buckle up. 2017 is in the books and 2018 is on deck. I wish I had better news, but the cynic in me can't deny the obvious: we're fucked!

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Dems Should Proceed With Caution Regarding New Tax Law


I remember a particular episode early in my sales career that has stuck with me to this day. I had written a very large and, more to the point, lucrative sale – computer, printer, accessories, service contract – on a Thursday night right before I went home for the day. I had Friday off and didn’t have to go back in till noon on Saturday.

When I arrived, one of the senior salesmen took me aside and informed me that the sale I made Thursday had been returned Friday at another store. He could see I was deeply disturbed, so he gave me some very good advice: go downstairs to the warehouse, scream, punch the wall, whatever. Just get it out of my system, because there was nothing I could do about it. What’s done is done, he said. No sense bemoaning it.

So I went downstairs and sulked a bit. No, I didn’t punch the wall; my luck, I’d have broken my hand. But I did get it out of my system, as it were. Then I went back upstairs and had one of the best days of the month. Not only did I overcome the return I had, but I more than doubled what I normally did on a Saturday. That salesman did me a huge favor by taking me aside. He’d been down that road before and wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake he had.

So, in the spirit of paying it forward, let me offer up a few pearls of wisdom for Democrats as they attempt to grapple with this new tax law (e.g., scam) that President Shitenstein just signed.

First, don’t compare this law with Obamacare. The two are totally different animals. While both were very unpopular when they were passed, the ACA wasn’t fully implemented for another two years. Most of the negative press it received was from conservative media outlets who just made up shit about it, and it only directly impacted a relatively small percentage of the population. This tax law will be felt almost immediately by the vast majority of working people.

Second, don’t underestimate the value an extra $40 can make in people’s lives. Already there are some Democrats that are poo-pooing the idea that some people will only get an extra forty bucks in their paychecks. This would be a colossal mistake. Like it or not, forty bucks is forty bucks. To some, it’s no big deal; to others, it’s the difference between a vacation or no vacation, buying some new clothes or making do with what they have, going out to dinner with the family once a month or having Chinese takeout. Democrats got bitch-slapped by the electorate in 2016 because of their arrogance; this is the sort of thing that can only reinforce that perception.

Even though the bulk of the individual tax-cut benefits go to the very wealthy, tax cuts are historically popular and almost always impossible to take away. Witness what happened to Democrats in the '94 midterms when Bill Clinton raised the rates on just the top two brackets. They lost their majority in both Houses of Congress.

Third, concentrate on the corporate tax cuts, which are completely indefensible. This is the one area where Democrats have an advantage over Republicans. They can and should make the case that the economy is doing quite well; profits are through the roof and we’ve had the longest stretch of sustained growth since the end of the Second World War. 

The problem is that wages haven’t kept pace with profits. There’s nothing in this tax law that compels businesses to invest in new factories, hire more people or give those in their employ pay raises. In fact, most experts agree that on balance the only thing these cuts will do is make investors’ portfolios a lot fatter. But so far as the average Joe or Jane are concerned, they get bupkis.

And lastly, don’t sit idly by and do nothing. Democrats can’t just criticize this law, they have to come up with one of their own and then they have to present it to voters. It doesn't matter that they don't have the ability to pass it; they must make the case that their vision is better than the Republicans. If they don’t or can’t, Democrats will find themselves in the same position Republicans were in trying to repeal a healthcare law they had no replacement for. And we all know how well that worked out.

Bottom line: Dems should proceed with caution regarding this new tax law, lest they end up making the GOP’s case for them. Even with the political headwinds at their backs, Democrats have had a history of fumbling the ball at the one-yard line. It would be inexcusable if they let this opportunity of a lifetime slip through their fingers because they sat on their asses and threw up their hands.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Will Trump Pull A Saturday Night Massacre of His Own?


It was on Saturday, October 20, 1973, that then President Richard Nixon, rather than comply with a subpoena by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox to turn over the Watergate tapes, ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire him. Richardson refused and promptly resigned. Nixon then directed Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Like Richardson, Ruckelshaus refused the order and also resigned. Nixon finally turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who carried out his order. And that became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

Forty-four years later, we could be looking at a repeat performance. In fact, if I were a betting man, I'd say the odds are looking good that Donald Trump will try something very much akin to what Nixon did in '73. It must be painfully obvious to this White House that, far from wrapping up his investigation, Robert Mueller is just beginning to ramp it up. The way the far Right is howling at the moon means even they know that things aren't looking good and they're freaking out. With the help of some very gullible Republicans in Congress, they're doing everything possible to undermine the integrity of the FBI and Mueller's team.

The fear is that Trump, who has the impulse control of a toddler, might take advantage of Congress being in recess during the Holidays and order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosensten to fire Mueller. Rosenstein has already stated under oath that he has found no cause for dismissing Mueller, so the likelihood is that he would either have to resign or be fired. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself from the Russian investigation, the task of firing Mueller would fall to Rachel Brand, the Associate Attorney General. If she decides she doesn't want to go down in history as the next Robert Bork, we could be looking at a low-level Justice Department employee firing a sitting prosecutor.

We are at a precarious moment as a Republic. Trump has already shown contempt for the rule of law; the idea that he could do something so brazen not only isn't far fetched, given what we know of him, it's highly probable. I pray I'm wrong; I pray that his legal team will be able to prevail upon him to not act rashly.

If they can't stop Trump, though, the nation will enter the worst Constitutional crisis of its history with the entire legislative branch out of town. And even when they return, the prospects that anything will happen don't look all that promising. Unlike in '73, this Republican Party has shown no ability to stand up to this president. Where Nixon was thwarted by his own party, Trump might well succeed with the blessing of his.

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is how democracy ends; not with a bang but a whimper.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Don't Call It Tax Reform


Barring a last-minute miracle - zombie apocalypse, asteroid hitting the Gulf of Mexico, the mothership beaming up the entire city of Washington D.C. - the Republican tax scam will become law. You can forget about Bob Corker or Marco Rubio taking a stand. Corker sold out for nothing and Rubio managed to squeeze a few extra dollars of child tax credit that, when you factor in the new requirements for actually qualifying for it, still excludes up to 10 million children from getting it. Susan Collins and Jeff Flake both folded up like a used tent. So much for the "moderates" in the Senate. Well, at least his colleagues were spared the indignity of having to wheel in John McCain from his death bed to cast the deciding vote, so what's left of his reputation will still remain intact.

The GOP is calling this fiasco tax reform. It is anything but. What it is is nothing more than a gigantic Christmas gift for corporate America that millions of middle-class families and working poor will have to pay for in the form of higher taxes and reduced services. One of those reduced services will be affordable health insurance because the bill eliminates the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Without it, rates will skyrocket and as many as 13 million people will lose coverage. Undaunted in their attempts to repeal the law outright, the GOP will instead direct their efforts at slowly crippling it.

While the bill does double the standard deduction on both single and married filers, it caps the amount you can deduct on state and local taxes and also reduces the amount of interest you can deduct. If you live in the Northeast (Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) or the west coast (California, Oregon and Washington state) and you have a mortgage on a home, I would strongly suggest you go on Amazon and buy a lifetime supply of K-Y Jelly, because you're about to get fucked in the ass.

And if you're a pastor of a small church or the director of an animal shelter or other charitable foundation, now would be a good time to get on your knees and pray that your parishioners and donors don't forget where they put their checkbooks, because by doubling the standard deduction, the new law actually de-incentivizes many people from being generous with their money. Some, I suspect, will still do the right thing and keep on giving, but others will likely do the opposite.

If you're part of the working poor or among the many blue-collar workers who voted for Donald Trump last year, some of you will be okay, but the rest of you, especially those who were depending on access to affordable healthcare, will find out what the rest of us already knew: that he's nothing more than a con artist who wanted to get elected so he could give himself and his crony friends the biggest tax break they've gotten since the days of Reagan. What can I say? We warned you and you didn't listen.

And if you think the damage ends there, guess again. To pay for this tax scam, Republicans are planning on going after entitlements. On the agenda to be picked apart are Medicare and Medicaid. Paul Ryan has made it his life's mission to ostensibly end both programs and judging by that ridiculous smirk he's had on his face of late, it would surprise me if we didn't see legislation out of the House regarding vouchers and block grants by the Spring. The only silver lining for Dems is that, thanks to their Alabama win, Mitch McConnell now only has 51 seats in the Senate.

This was not a reform bill; it was a mugging. It's Reaganomics on steroids, and if you want to see how bad this will be, google "Kansas budget crisis." They are still digging out from Sam Brownback's reckless slashing of corporate taxes. The crisis was so bad that at one point the state ran out of money and had to close its schools early. And while it is comforting to know that, unlike Kansas and other states, the federal government can borrow money to cover its expenses, at some point the so-called fiscal hawks will demand a tightening of the belt. Translation, no tax increases, just spending cuts; and those cuts will affect those who can least afford it.

All this to drop the corporate tax rate down to 21 percent from 35 percent. Forget for a moment that no half-way decent sized company with accountants on the payroll who have half a brain pays even close to 35 percent. The actual effective corporate tax rate in this country, when you take into account all the deductions allowed under the law, is closer to 18 percent, with some companies paying nothing. Now, without so much a single deduction subtracted from the mix, these companies will now pay way less than they were paying; some might actually get a rebate, as crazy as that might sound.

And they get all these breaks without any requirement to higher more employees or invest in new plants or office space. In fact, there's nothing here that would prevent these corporations from parking  the extra money in the same place they've parked the other $2.3 trillion that's out there: overseas. In fact, the biggest winners in this tax scam are investors who will likely see their portfolios double or triple over the next decade. If you're looking for a new career move, try hedge funds. I'm guessing there will be a large number of job openings in the not too distant future.

I hope your favorite color is red, because with these corporate tax cuts about to be made permanent, we will be seeing a lot of it. The GOP estimates their plan will add approximately one trillion dollars to the debt over the next ten years. It wouldn't surprise me if that amount doesn't get tripled. And for a party that supposedly ran on fiscal responsibility and balancing the budget that isn't just hypocritical; it's obscene.

Bob Novak was right when he said, "God put the Republican Party on Earth to cut taxes. If they don’t do that, they have no useful function." At least they aren't shy about their mission.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Doug Jones Gives Dems Some Hope


Let's not mince words, what happened in Alabama Tuesday was stunning. A Democrat won a U.S. Senate election for the first time in 25 years. Let me repeat that in case you missed it. A Democrat won a U.S. Senate election for the first time in 25 years.

This isn't Virginia. This is one of the reddest states in the country, surpassed only by Wyoming, Montana, Mississippi and the Dakotas. There are more black people in Vermont than there are Democrats in Alabama. Okay, I'm being facetious but you get the point. Nobody saw this coming. Based on the recent polling - the Fox News poll notwithstanding - it was shaping up as your typical, run of the mill win for Republican Roy Moore.

But Doug Jones had other plans and, for the second time in just over a month, Democrats had a good outcome in an important election. Unlike Ralph Northam's win in Virginia, however, this victory will have a profound impact on the balance of power in Washington for at least the next three years.

So how did this Jones pull this off? Well, first off, he had a little help. Moore wasn't just a flawed candidate, he was radioactive. Exit polling showed Republican turnout was down from previous elections. Apparently even in a state that could give the Beverly Hillbillies a run for their money, people had a problem voting for a pedophile. But while it was a bad night for Moore, it was a devastating night for Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Both gave full-throated endorsements to the former judge and now both have a ton of egg on their faces.

But the real story here wasn't Trump or Bannon, it was Jones. In short, he ran a perfect campaign. He didn't just play to his base, like so many Democrats tend to do, he made a concerted effort to reach out to voters in the most conservative parts of the state. Like Northam in Virginia, Jones sliced into the margins in those districts that Republicans need in order to prevail and that, more than anything else, was what pushed him over the top.

The lesson here for Democrats is that it's possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. You don't have to compromise on your core principles to win an election. Not once, despite mounting pressure, did Jones ever abandon his stance on a woman's right to choose. But while Jones stood his ground, he made an appeal to moderate Republicans in the state that, if he were elected, he would work with both parties to find common ground. The result was that he won independents by nine points.

Compare and contrast how Jones and Northam beat their Republican opponents with how Hillary Clinton lost to her's. Clinton did the exact opposite. She rarely, if ever, ventured out of her comfort zone. Her campaign focused almost all its energy on turnout in traditionally blue areas of the country, hoping to replicate what Barack Obama had done in both his election victories. So arrogant were they that they didn't even bother to visit Wisconsin.

We all know what ended up happening. Clinton was unable to duplicate Obama's margins and she lost the election. Yes, she still won the popular vote, but her unwillingness to at least make an appeal to rural voters was what allowed Trump to run up the score in those areas. That's how Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania went red. A visit here, a visit there and Hillary might've been in the White House, James Comey or no James Comey.

If Democrats are smart - I'll give you a couple of minutes to stop chuckling ... okay, done? - they'll take a long, hard look at what happened in Alabama and Virginia and commit it to memory. Good candidates, like good sales people, make their pitch to as many people as possible, because in the end it's about expanding your market or, as was the case with Jones and Northam, your pool of potential voters. Jones didn't turn a single red county blue, but he did enough damage in those counties to deprive Moore of a victory.

If Democrats have any hope of retaking the Senate in 2018, they will have to do it by not only holding serve in ten states that Trump won, but also by flipping two states where there are a lot of moderate Republican voters: Arizona and Nevada. Identity politics may have given them two huge electoral wins in 2008 and 2012, but it came at a terrible cost. Today the Democratic Party is more isolated politically than at any time since the Reconstruction era. Republicans control two thirds of the governorships and state legislatures, as well as both houses of Congress and the White House.

Turning that around will not be an easy task, but, thanks to Doug Jones and Ralph Northam, Democrats now at least have a road map that they can use to take them back to the promise land.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Masochistic Media


Patient says to the doctor, "Doc, it hurts when I do this."
Doctor replies, "Then stop doing that."

 - Henny Youngman

Oh, if only somebody could convey the simplicity of that old joke to every media outlet and newspaper in the country, maybe then we'd stop having incidents like the one that occurred in the White House briefing room where Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on Donald Trump's assertion that the media is fake.

"There's a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people, something that happens regularly. You can't say that it's an honest mistake when you're purposefully putting out information that you know to be false. Or when you're taking information that hasn't been validated, that hasn't been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an instance."

This line of attack from this administration is one they've repeatedly employed since the campaign started more than two years ago. This latest assertion has to do with two incidents in which errors in a story were uncovered and corrections were made, which, in spite of what some might believe, happens from time to time in journalism. But Trump has made it his life's mission to claim that these aren't just errors; they're deliberate attempts by a biased and malicious media to destroy him. Apparently reporting on the outrageous things that come both from his mouth and his twitter account is biased.

Twice this year I have implored the media to "pull the plug" on this president; to stop showing up at his press briefings and rallies. Back in July I wrote, "Nowhere is it written that the press and the media have an obligation to be this president's megaphone to the world."

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.

Have you ever wondered why, despite his vocal condemnation of the so-called liberal media, Trump gives so many interviews to The New York Times? Or what about his obsession with being Time magazine's Man of the Year? Do you think he gives a shit about whether he's Breitbart's Man of the Year? He may love Steve Bannon but, apart from giving him lip service, he seems ostensibly unaffected by anything that gets written in that rag.

Yes, he may publicly proclaim "Fox and Friends" the best cable show on the air, and he's dry-humped Sean Hannity's leg so many times, it's a wonder Hannity doesn't have a limp. But take a closer look at his tweets and the fact is he spends most of his time fixating on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, The Washington Post and the aforementioned Times. He behaves more like a jilted lover who's trying to get back at his ex-girlfrind than an aggrieved party that has been wronged. This president hates being rejected and the more he hears the word no, the more it gets under his skin.

So maybe it's time for the ex-girlfriend to stop returning his calls. Perhaps change phone numbers or even addresses. Maybe the only way he gets the message is if the media stops playing along with his sick and twisted game. Jesus, even masochists know when to cry uncle.

There is nothing to be gained from continuing to give this man a platform. Indeed, just the opposite. By going along for the ride and engaging in a senseless back and forth banter with his propaganda minister, the risk becomes even greater that more and more people may decide this is nothing more than a he said / he said pissing contest. And once that gets engrained into enough people's heads, it's over.

The secret to Trump's success has always been his ability to bring people down to his level. He has done that brilliantly all his life. The reason he's in the White House is because he dragged both the GOP and the Clinton campaign through the mud and they willingly obliged him every step of the way. And now with the Mueller investigation closing in on him, this master manipulator is setting the stage for what will be the biggest heist of his adult life: the capture of the American republic.

Think about it. He already owns the Republican Party; his minions believe everything he says; and he has systematically decimated every agency and department in the federal government. All of it by design. The only thing standing in his way is the Fourth Estate. If you want to know what can happen to a "free"press that is unable to say no to power, take a good look at Russia. In that country, the press is little more than Putin's puppet.

The media cannot allow that to happen here. So, again, I say, enough is enough. Trump loves walls, so put one up between you and him. Starve this beast before he gets too big. Pull the plug on his ass while the plug still belongs to you. Do it now while you still can; while there's still a country left.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Wake Up Call for All Men


Al Franken and John Conyers did the right thing by resigning, as did every Democrat who called for both men's resignations. I realize Franken comes from a blue state and Conyers from a blue district, so this wasn't exactly a profile in political courage. The real test will come when a senator or congressman from a red or purple state or district is forced out. And, trust me, that moment is coming. It's only a matter of time.

But that's not the point here. If the only lesson that comes out of the resignations of Franken and Conyers is that Democrats do the right thing only when it's in their best interests, then they are missing the bigger picture. Holding people accountable for their actions shouldn't be a partisan issue; it should be axiomatic. And given how pathetic the GOP's response has been towards both Donald Trump and Roy Moore, it is crucial. If Democrats want to make the case for why they should be trusted with the reigns of power in 2018, they need to have what Kirsten Gillibrand rightly calls a "zero tolerance" for such behavior.

I have read Ruth Marcus's piece in The Washington Post and, I'll concede, she raises a valid concern. There certainly could be a "rush to judgment" and "one size fits all" punishment for these offenders. Indeed, Franken addressed that concern on the Senate floor when he said it was ironic that he was stepping down while Trump was still in the White House and Moore was running for the Senate with the support of his party. But with all due respect to Franken and his supporters, you don't get brownie points for only being a PG-13 sex offender, any more than someone charged with manslaughter can argue he isn't Charles Manson and expect to get off. You do the crime, you do the time. Period!

But let's put politics aside for the moment and acknowledge that what we are witnessing is truly historic and unprecedented. In my 56 years on this planet - 38 of them as an adult - I've never seen anything remotely like it. This isn't just about a few women who were violated having the courage to come forward and tell their stories; it's much bigger than that. Don't get me wrong, their stories are genuine and heart wrenching and need to be told. But they pale in comparison to the cultural shift that is going on in the country.

Let's be honest. This male-dominated society that we live in has for too long enabled the sort of behavior that allowed men like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer to flourish. It wasn't just that they were predators who preyed on women; it's that for years they operated with impunity while the very system that coddled them turned a blind eye. Imagine the audacity of a man thinking it was appropriate for him to parade around naked or in his shorts in front of a female employee; or forcing a female intern to have sex with him or carry his child; or sticking his tongue into a woman's mouth; or groping a teenager in his car; or referring to a female co-worker as sweetie or honey; or commenting on how sexy she looks in a particular outfit and thinking he's only paying her a compliment. Imagine the depravity of such men who not only think such behavior and language is acceptable, but count on the complicity of an institution that shields them from any sort of accountability.

Well that institution appears to be crumbling before our very eyes. The old-boy network that for too long ignored the deviants within its ranks is being shaken to its very core, and I say "Amen." It's about time someone had the courage to take a pick axe to this misogynistic fellowship of misbegotten Neanderthals. For Christ's sake, we are in the last couple of years of the second decade of the twenty-first century, not the middle of fifth decade of the twentieth. Mad Men was supposed to be a show about how men treated women in the 1950s; it wasn't supposed to be an instruction manual for how they should be treated today.

This is a time for all of us, as men, to look in the mirror and examine our own actions and pre-conceived notions about women. The problem I have with Marcus's analysis is that it lets too many of us off the hook. Few men ever graduate to the level of a Weinstein, a Trump or a Moore, but there are plenty of us who have pushed the envelope in other ways. Maybe we didn't manipulate a women into having sex with us, but how many times have we laughed at an off-color comment or joke and thought, "What's the big deal?" The inherent flaw in a sliding scale metric is that it ignores a basic fact that the Weinsteins of the world in all likelihood started off as a "What's the big deal?" offender. No doubt Franken still thinks the picture of him with is hands over Leeann Tweeden's breasts was a just a joke gone wrong. For a 13 year-old, maybe, but not for a grown man.

The fact that Franken, or any man, could find humor in such a photo is the real problem here. Misogyny isn't just confined to those men who commit sexual assaults or brag about grabbing a woman's "pussy" in an interview. Those are the easy ones to spot. It's the cultural morass that we must look at. Because until we begin to change our way of thinking as men, we will continue to foster the development of future Roy Moores and John Conyers.

I know a thing or two about this. I have made no secret of the fact that for years I was a drunk. Today I am sober and I attend meetings to make sure I stay that way. Addiction has all kinds of levels from casual to chronic. The term gateway drug refers to a substance that while not necessarily addictive on its own, often leads to other substances that are. Sexism is no different. If we don't nip bad behaviors in the bud at the onset, they can lead to other, far-more destructive ones. At some point in their earlier lives these predators got the message that what they were doing was harmless, nothing more than men being men. If only there had been someone in their lives who had the courage to say "No, this is not harmless, it's not ok, it's wrong to objectify women," I suspect the lives of many a victim would've been vastly different.

So to Ruth Marcus, I say, thanks, but no thanks. I'm going with Kirsten Gillibrand on this one. Zero tolerance is the only way. It's time for all us as men to own who we are and what we may have done. The time for rationalization and enabling is over. No more excuses, no more mulligans. Enough women have been scarred by our collective ignorance. These predators grew up in our ranks; we must do everything within our power to ensure they are not replaced by future ones.

It will be difficult, but then nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished easily. Years ago we laughed at jokes about race and homosexuality, and now such humor is considered off limits. And that is a good thing. If we can change with respect to those topics, then we can certainly change with respect to this one.

It starts right now with me, with you, with the guy at work or friend at a ballgame. Being a man means more than just being born with a particular set of genitalia; it means having the maturity and self-awareness to treat people as human beings and NOT as objects.

Look, none of us are angels. In my faith, we are taught that all fall short of the glory of God. But that does not give us license to disrespect one another or willfully ignore the sins of another man. There will be an accounting for those of us who do such things, believe me.

For my part, I consider the events of the last few weeks to be a wakeup call of sorts. I have done some serious soul searching and found areas of my life that I am not satisfied with. The lust that I have carried in my heart has clouded my judgment considerably. And while I am grateful that I am no Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump, I am painfully reminded of that famous phrase, "But for the grace of God go I."

My prayer is that all men, whoever and wherever they may be, might take this time to reflect on their lives and pledge to be better husbands, boyfriends, bosses, coworkers, associates, etc... The women in their lives deserve nothing less.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Will Al Franken Pay the Price for Bill Clinton?


The recent revelations about the sexual misconduct of Harvey Weinstein have, for all intents and purposes, served as the catalyst for a litany of women to come forward and tell their stories. Over the last couple of weeks, men from the entertainment industry to the media to both major political parties have been implicated in one scandal after another.

The latest of these scandals involves Minnesota senator Al Franken, who, while on a USO tour in 2006, was accused by Leeann Tweeden of sticking his tongue in her mouth during a rehearsal for a comedy skit. Later on in the tour he posed for a picture in which he mock groped her breasts while she was asleep on a plane. The former is sexual assault; the latter a sick and juvenile stunt. Both acts have triggered an ethics investigation that at its worst could lead to Franken's expulsion from the Senate and at the very least could seriously damage his career.

As a man, I am sickened by Franken's actions. No, they do not rise even remotely to the level of the atrocities of Roy Moore or actor Kevin Spacey. Ivanka Trump is right: there IS a special place in hell for people who prey on children and Moore and Spacey are headed there. But Franken is hardly a choir boy here, and his defenders must stop trying to rationalize his conduct. And, while we're at it, they should also stop "slut-shaming" Tweeden. She is the victim here, not the perpetrator.

It does not matter what she did for a living, what type of clothing she wore or didn't wear, or how long it took her to come forward. If you'll recall, Moore's accusers waited in some instances almost 40 years before breaking their silence. You can't have it both ways, people. Victims of sexual abuse face a myriad of obstacles when disclosing their accounts, from the shame they feel over what happened to the flack they often face from their peers. The tactics being employed by Moore's lawyer underscore just how difficult it is and why so many women choose to remain silent. As progressives, we should be championing these women, not humiliating them. I personally don't give a damn whether you're a fan of Franken or not, whether you agree with his policies or not. He does not get preferential treatment simply because of his political views or affiliations. He is accountable for his actions whether there is a D next to his name or an R.

And that leads me to a sensitive topic for Dems: Bill Clinton. I voted for the man twice and, on balance, he was a very effective president who did a lot for women's rights. But there's no way to dance around this anymore: he was a sexual predator. No, he was not nearly as hideous as the groper in chief currently occupying the Oval Office, but to exempt him from the same accountability that we demand from Trump and Moore is part of the problem.

I give Kirsten Gillibrand a lot of credit for having the courage to speak out. Whether you agree with her or not that Clinton should've resigned after the Monica Lewinski scandal broke, the point is that Democrats chose politics over principles when it suited them in '98. While Clinton did get impeached, as his supporters point out, he was impeached for lying about the affair, not having it. The inability of Democrats to do the right thing back then - particularly the feminist movement which went to the mat for him - indirectly set the stage for Trump's eventual rise to power. When you blur the lines of decency for self preservation, you deserve what you get.

And that's why it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Al Franken ends up being a sacrificial lamb here. Nineteen years ago Democrats swept their president's shortcomings under the carpet. There was always going to be a day of reckoning for that lapse in judgment. With the prospects of Moore getting elected despite the charges against him and the likelihood he will be expelled by his own party from the Senate, Democrats will be hard-pressed to make sure their side of the aisle is as clean as possible. Whether it's fair or not, Franken will pay the price Bill Clinton didn't. He will either be forced to resign or he will be expelled. And his colleagues will not lift a finger to help him.

The good news for Dems is that doing the right thing here, unlike back in '98, won't cost them anything. The governor of Minnesota is a Democrat and will undoubtedly appoint a Democrat to fill the vacancy until a special election is held. And since a Democrat would be favored in that election, the Party would not lose any seats in the Senate. And even more importantly, Franken's removal would allow Democrats to run as a zero tolerance party in 2018, a stark contrast to the Party of Trump and Moore.

Don't think that thought hasn't crossed Chuck Schumer's mind once or twice since Tweeden went public. With the recent successes in Virginia and the Philly burbs, Dems have some momentum going into the midterms. The last thing he needs is a distraction that can derail his plans to retake the Senate, or at least keep the GOP from adding to its majority. If jettisoning Franken helps him reach his goal, it'll be the easiest call of his political career.

To those who would say this is yet another example of false equivalence run amok, I would say two things: One, I agree; two, it's irrelevant. You don't tell the cop that pulls you over for speeding that you were only going 15 miles over the limit. When you're best argument begins and ends with "But he's not Roy Moore or Harvey Weinstein," you know you're swimming up stream. Franken's biggest crime may have been poor timing, but timing is everything, especially in the age of Trump.

Look, does Al Franken deserve a better fate? Yes. Will he get one? Probably not.

Postscript:

Since this piece was put to bed another woman has come forward charging that Franken groped her. The alleged incident took place during a photo shoot at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. If true, this would be the second incident of sexual misconduct Franken has been involved in, this one while a sitting senator.

While we still don't have all the details - there's a chance this claim might not be legit - this much we do know: Franken is a marked man. With the revelation that now Charlie Rose has been accused of sexual misconduct and suspended indefinitely by CBS, we can expect more of these allegations to surface over the next few weeks and months. I suspect that by the time the dust settles, a lot of men are going to fall by the wayside, victims of their own perverted sense of power.

One thing is for sure: there's no way in hell Bill Clinton would've survived this were he president today.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dems Get An Early Christmas Present


Ok, I was wrong. Ed Gillespie didn't win Tuesday. In fact, he got his ass handed to him. When the final votes were tallied, Ralph Northam won Virginia. In fact, he won it going away. Apparently, Trumpism without Trump isn't a winning ticket after all.

Combined with the well anticipated pickup in New Jersey by Phil Murphy, this was a good day for Democrats. They retained control of a valuable governor's mansion in a crucial swing state that Hillary Clinton won last year and flipped another in an albeit VERY blue state. That's a net gain of one.

So how did it happen? And where do Democrats go from here?

First, it cannot be overstated enough that while Virginia is technically a swing state, it has been trending blue over the last few elections. Bob McDonnell in '09 was the last Republican to win in the state, and that had more to do with the fact that a Democrat - Barack Obama - was in the White House than McDonnell's talent as a politician or executive. Both its senators and current governor are Democrats. And while the majority of the state is geographically red, the largest population centers are clearly in blue counties. It's more a mid-Atlantic state than a southern one. In fact, it almost resembles a mini New York.

Secondly, this election reminded me a lot of the one that took place four years ago when Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli. There you had two candidates who left a lot to be desired and, in the end, the one with less baggage won. Indeed, Northam's margin of victory was greater than McAuliffe's. Gillespie tried to pawn himself off as Trump lite, when in fact he was nothing more than a former Washington lobbyist who once worked for George Bush. His disgusting ads notwithstanding, the Republican base was simply unimpressed with him and the election results showed it. As to whether there was a Trump effect or not, the exit polling from Virginia was most revealing. Immigration, a core issue for Trump during the campaign, was least important among voters. Number one was healthcare.

Third, turnout was uncharacteristically high for an off year election, especially in the suburbs, where Northam performed much better than Clinton last November. This is very good news if you're a Democrat. Typically, Republicans wipe the floor with Democrats in midterms. If they can somehow replicate this turnout next year, their prospects of retaking the House look pretty good.

Lastly, the real story Tuesday wasn't the gubernatorial election, but the Virginia House of Delegates, where going into the election, Democrats needed to pick up 17 seats to gain a majority. As things stand now, they've picked up 15 of those seats with 3 races still too close to call. Even if they fall short, the gains they've made will be enough to send a strong message and to give Northam a chance at governing.

So where do Democrats go from here? Well that depends on two things: One, whether they can finally put 2016 behind them and move on; and two, whether they can formulate a winning strategy that will give them a chance at regaining their majority in 2018 and winning back the White House in 2020. The jury is still out on the former; but so far as the latter is concerned, Ralph Northam may have provided them with something of a road map.

As I mentioned earlier, Northam was hardly your idea of Mr. Excitement. In fact, he was Al Gore, only more boring, if that's even possible. But on the issues, as well as on ideology, Northam not only survived a primary challenge from his left, not to mention a snub from grumpy old Bernie Sanders, he managed to reclaim the center from Republicans. And that's important, because of the 23 Democratic senators up for reelection next year, five are in deep red states Trump carried. I can assure you the liberal wing of the Party isn't very popular in North Dakota or Montana.

One of the two great myths about the 2016 election is that Hillary lost because of her policy positions. Actually she lost because of her flaws. Had she not had so many of them, she more than likely would've beaten Trump. Ralph Northam is NO liberal; in fact he's what we used to call a centrist, before it became a four-letter word among Democrats. Well, center-left politics, as it turned out, was just what the doctor ordered. In fact, if you look at the election results in the suburbs of Philly, especially in Delaware County where Democrats outperformed Republicans for the first time in over a century, it proved to be the perfect tonic.

The other great myth was that Trump won because he was a conservative. The fact is he was an anti-establishment populist who ran against both parties and won. The answer to his brand of populism isn't a hard-left approach, but a more reasoned, disciplined, rational approach. Northam may have been as interesting as watching paint dry, but he made a lot of sense to people who have grown weary of the identity politics that so many Democrats have been employing over the last few elections. If the Party wants to win back Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin in 2020, it would behoove it to appeal to voters who aren't black or Hispanic by letting them know they have nothing to fear by voting D. Not every white male who voted for Trump is a racist.

The way to beat Trump is not to continue to belittle his voters, as so many Democrats seem intent on doing, but by giving some of them a better vision for the future. The opposite of fear isn't more fear; it's hope. If Democrats want to be known as a big tent party, they need to make room under that tent for everyone, even those people who don't necessarily fit the mold.

Throughout the campaign, Northam resisted the urge to make this election about Trump, much to the chagrin of many Democrats. As it turns out, he was right. By sticking to the issues that mattered most to voters, he avoided the same trap that every one of Trump's Republican primary opponents and Hillary fell into. Trump's big advantage is to drag every one down to his level. Northam was having none of that, and if Democrats know what's good for them, they would do well to follow his lead.

But for now, Democrats should bask in the glow of this victory. They finally have some wind in their sails. What they do with it is, of course, up to them. There's a lot more work that has to be done to ensure that this marvelous moment doesn't become yet another in a long series of what ifs.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Why Gillespie Will Win on Tuesday


The RCP average shows the Virginia gubernatorial race a virtual tie going into next Tuesday's election. In less than a month, Republican Ed Gillespie has gone from trailing Democrat Ralph Northam by 6.5 points to trailing him by a mere point. Worse for Northam, of the last three polls taken, two show a tie and one shows Gillespie up by 3.

If you're worried, you should be, and not just because of the recent polling. Of the last three elections, two of them showed the Democrat underperforming the polling average. For instance, in 2014, Democrat Mark Warner beat Gillespie by less than a point, despite an RCP average that showed him ahead by almost double digits. And in 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Ken Cuccinelli by a mere 2.5 points, 3.5 points below where he was projected to win. Only the 2016 presidential election lived up to expectations. The RCP average showed Clinton ahead of Trump by 5.3 points going into the election; she wound up beating him by 5.4 points. Given that this is an off-year election, if the trend holds, Gillespie should win by around 2.5 points.

It isn't just the fact that Democrats tend to underperform in non-presidential election years that makes me pessimistic; my main concern is what I've been seeing throughout the country and, if I'm right, Democrats could get their clocks cleaned in next year's midterms. The cultural polarization that has been sweeping the country is now all but complete. What Trump managed to pull off on a national level last November has trickled down to the state and local levels. There is virtually no purple left in the country. The cities remain blue; everything else is solid red.

While Trump is very unpopular on a national level, the regions of the country where he is popular - mostly the rural areas and exurbs - geographically outnumber the rest of the country by a wide margin. Even more disturbing is that while Democrats poll well in the cities and modestly well in the suburbs, Republicans are polling consistently stronger everywhere else.  That is the main reason Democrats lost both the South Carolina and Georgia special elections this year. Put succinctly, there just aren't enough Democratic votes in blue counties to offset the Republican votes in red counties.

A breakdown of the last three elections underscores the problem Democrats have. In 2016, Clinton got 64 percent of the vote in Fairfax County and won the state by 5.4 points. By comparison, Warner in 2014 and McAuliffe in 2013 got 57 percent and 58 percent of the vote respectively in Fairfax. Both eked out narrow victories in their elections. In my opinion, Northam needs to get at least 60 percent of the vote in Fairfax this Tuesday or Gillespie will win.

Virginia, for all intents and purposes, has become this year's bellwether election. If the Dems hold it, even if by a narrow margin, they can use the momentum to go forward into next year's midterms. But if they lose it, all bets are off. Call me a Debbie downer, but I think the latter is in the offing.

The Civil War In the Democratic Party



"Welcome back, my friends, to the primary that never ends." - Michael Tomasky

"Just when you thought it was safe to focus on 2018..."  - Peter Fegan

By now the bombshell revelation by former DNC Chair Donna Brazile that the Clinton campaign was in cahoots with the DNC and ostensibly ran it has sent shockwaves throughout the political world. It not only reopens a wound that was finally starting to heal, it threatens the Democratic Party's chances at having a successful midterm next year and retaking the White House in 2020.

Let's cut to the chase. It doesn't matter what dire straits the DNC was in - $24 million in debt or $24 in debt - there's no way to sugar coat this. This scandal - and it IS a scandal - just reinforces everything Bernie and his supporters have been saying about Clinton and the DNC: the debate schedules, the fundraising mechanisms, the resources that were allocated, the whole ball of wax.

If you are a Hillary supporter and you seriously believe that all this is much ado about nothing, you're sadly mistaken. True, there's no direct evidence that any of the DNC's efforts actually cost Sanders the nomination. Pundits have gone over this time and time again. He just didn't have the votes to win. His platform and his positions, despite having wide appeal among younger and more progressive voters, didn't resonate with a majority of registered Democrats. He didn't lose by a little; he lost by a lot.

But that is hardly the point. Like all the scandals that have plagued Hillary throughout her political career, it is the perception of wrong doing that, once more, has done the most damage. There was a clear conflict of interest in having someone like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was an avid supporter of Clinton, in charge of the party apparatus. That isn't just bad optics, it's profoundly poor judgment that left a bad taste in the mouths of millions of people; some of whom I'm sure took out their frustrations by staying home last November.

Now before we go dragging Hillary off to prison, as Donald Trump has publicly called for, let's get a grip shall we. Yes, what Clinton and the DNC did was wrong and inexcusable. But it is equally wrong to continue the lie that Trump told repeatedly on the campaign trail that the Democratic primary process was rigged. As I said above, there's NO evidence whatsoever that Bernie was robbed of the nomination. To state otherwise, as Elizabeth Warren did, is irresponsible.

Yes, in retrospect, Bernie was right about the unrest in the Rust Belt states and the Democratic Party should've heeded his warning about the growing threat. But Bernie lost fair and square. He and his supporters need to except that fact and move on, just like Hillary and her supporters need to except the fact that she ran a lousy campaign, and that, more so than Comey's October surprise and/or Putin's interference, was what cost her the election. In fact, Hillary should change the title of her new book from "What Happened" to "What Happened?" because it's clear she still doesn't get it.

And getting back to Bernie, I would also point out that he has made it abundantly clear over the years just how much contempt he has for the Democratic Party. Yes, he ran for the Party's nomination, but, apart from having his name on the ballot, he had no skin in the game. He wanted all the perks without any of the responsibilities. Not that it justifies what she did, but at least Hillary raised money for the DNC; Bernie didn't raise so much as a cent. It's more than just a little hypocritical to claim you were treated unfairly by a club you technically don't belong to.

Bernie's supporters are quick to point out that he caucuses with the Democrats despite his philosophical differences. Big deal; so does Angus King, another independent. The difference between King and Bernie is that King hails from Maine, where being an independent is a birthright, not a political gimmick. I've been to both states and they are as different from each other as day is from night. In Maine, it's not uncommon to see Democratic towns electing Republican mayors and vice versa. In Vermont, there are two types of people: progressives and those who think that Deadheads are too mainstream. You can probably squeeze the total number of Republicans in the state into a single Ben and Jerry's.

If you need more proof that Bernie is no team player, he has decided not to endorse Democrat Ralph Northam in the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial race against Republican Ed Gillespie. This is typical of Sanders. When he doesn't get his way, he takes his ball and goes home with it. Now you know why I said he would've made a lousy president. Stunts like this.

Look, here's the deal. The 2016 election is over. Bernie lost the nomination, Hillary lost the election and a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic would-be dictator is president. The issue before us should be how to rectify that outcome, not how to relitigate it. But we can only do that if the Hatfields and the McCoys stop feuding. So long as Bernie's supporters still insist that their guy was robbed and Hillary's supporters keep harping on the three million more votes she got, Trump and his supporters are going to keep on winning.

A maniac with the impulse control of a toddler has the nuclear launch codes. Common sense would dictate that any petty squabbles be put aside for the sake of the country and the planet. Both sides need a come to Jesus moment.

And right now would be as good a time as any.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Papadopoulos Is the Big Fish Here, Not Manafort


The news that Paul Manafort has been indicted by Robert Mueller for money laundering should come as no surprise to anyone. Most legal analysts who have been following the Russia investigation knew it was only a matter of time before he was charged. Manafort's ties to pro-Russian factions in Ukraine were well established. Given that his apartment had been raided by FBI agents in July, it would've been surprising if he hadn't been charged.

But the news that George Papadopoulos had been arrested, pled guilty to several counts of perjury on October 5 and is currently cooperating with Mueller's team came totally out of left field. The timing of Mueller's announcement here was no accident. He is clearly sending two messages. The first is to Manafort: We have Papadopoulos. He's cooperating with us. Would you like to get the same deal we gave him? The second is to the White House: We have Papadopoulos. We know who he spoke to. Now would be a good time to come in and talk to us before we come for you.

Do not think for a moment that they aren't shitting their pants in the West Wing. They can try all they want to make this about Hillary's emails and her campaign's connection with the Steele Dossier - which was originally funded by a conservative website on behalf of a Republican donor - but Mueller's sights are clearly focused on what went on in the Trump campaign, and he's not going to be swayed by any spin (read pressure) from Fox News, Breitbart, et al.

Make no mistake about it: Papadopoulos is the big fish here. He wasn't just a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, he acted as a go-between for Russian officials who had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton and high-ranking members of the Trump campaign; one of whom is believed to be Manafort himself. The fact that he pled guilty to get a reduced sentence means Mueller has his smoking gun. In fact, he has the whole damn armory.

Where we go from here depends on two things: One, how long it takes for Manafort's lawyers to broker a deal with Mueller to their liking; and two, whether or not Trump decides to intervene by either getting rid of Mueller or by issuing pardons against all parties involved. I don't think Trump will opt for the former, not because he wouldn't like to, but because at this point he would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone at the Justice Department who would comply with such an order to do so. But I do believe he might very well use his executive authority to issue pardons for anyone connected with the investigation.

That's why the news this past August that the Mueller team has joined forces with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is so crucial here. Trump can only pardon people for federal crimes, not state ones. And that ace in the hole is what will allow Mueller to be as aggressive as he needs to in order to get at the truth.

Now I would caution those who think that we're nearing the close of this investigation to take a deep breath. Even if Mueller gets Manafort to flip, we still have a long road ahead. If the objective is to get Trump, whether it be on obstruction or collusion, then Mueller still has to find a few more pieces to the puzzle, and those pieces will be much harder to get the closer he gets to this president. Manafort was low hanging fruit, as is Michael Flynn, who it wouldn't surprise me to learn is next on Mueller's list.

If this were a baseball game, I'd say we were in the top of the third, and that's assuming we don't go into extra innings. The bottom line: it may well be a year or more before this comes to a, hopefully, satisfactory conclusion.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Now What?


Now that Jeff Flake has channeled his inner FDR; now that Bob Corker has made it abundantly clear that the White House is basically a day-care center; now that John McCain and George Bush have each publicly rebuked this president and his policies, there's only one question I have. Now what?

Because here's what it comes down to: no matter how profound they might be, words alone do not change a blessed thing. In fact, unless accompanied by strong action, even the most eloquent of words tend to - as McCain put it - fall into the "ash heap of history."

Seriously, what would've happened if after John F. Kennedy declared we would land a man on the moon, NASA had not delivered? What if after Martin Luther King, Jr's famous I have a dream speech, there had been no marches from Selma to Montgomery? And what if the Continental Congress had chosen to do nothing after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence? History demands more from its leaders than just great oratory; it demands great followthrough. The will to change requires more than just a sharp pen or tongue, it requires a moral conviction to move forward, even when the odds are stacked against you.

In 1961, the United States wasn't capable of getting a rocket off the launch pad without exploding, so landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade was, to many, an impossible goal. It was the men and women of NASA who made that goal become a realty. MLK, Jr was the leader of the non-violent peace movement in the country who spoke many times about the inequality and injustice that the black man was subjected to. Yet, it was those marches that took place in the mid-sixties that focused the attention of the nation on the cruelty of racism. Today we honor those marches as much as we do his speeches. And, let's face it, in 1776, the idea that a rag tag group of colonies could challenge, much less defeat, the greatest nation on the globe was farcical. But thanks to the the skill and bravery of men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson is revered as a patriot rather than reviled as a traitor.

If it's true that history only remembers the winners, it's equally true that the winners are those who seize it. We now find ourselves at a pivotal moment in history. We have a rogue president in the White House who has been called out by members of his own party and by conservative writers from David Frum to Jennifer Rubin. We have a pending indictment from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Slowly but surely, Donald Trump is transforming the GOP into his own image. Who will stand up to him? Floor speeches and op-ed pieces won't cut it. This Republic needs action - bold and defiant action.

Instead of deciding not to seek reelection, what if Jeff Flake and Bob Corker decided to run as independents in 2018? What if other Republican senators like Susan Collins and the aforementioned John McCain decided to thwart their party's legislative agenda just to deprive Trump of any accomplishments? Better still, what if all four called for invoking the 25th Amendment? And what if, along with those four senators, there was an equal number of Congressmen who did likewise? Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would shit their pants if that happened. That would be no mere floor speech, that would be the political equivalent of a Mutiny on the Bounty, so to speak. And it would be the beginning of what I believe would be a death spiral for Trump.

Think of it this way. The reason so many women have come forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct is because of one brave woman who led the way. Her courage helped pave the way for the others to make their voices heard. And now Weinstein is finished, along with, possibly, journalist Mark Halperin. Call it the domino effect, if you will, but it works.

Going blindly along with Trump because they're afraid of facing a primary challenge is the very definition of cowardice on the part of the GOP. In 1974, Republicans put country ahead of party and voted with Democrats to pass three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. That eventually forced his resignation from office. The question before us is whether there are enough brave Republicans in 2017 who are willing to do the same against this president.

If, as Corker has suggested, his fellow colleagues know all too well how unhinged Trump is, than to remain silent isn't merely an act of complicity, as Flake pointed out, it is an act of treason that will be remembered long after his term in office is complete, assuming we live that long. The Democrats still have no unified strategy, and even if they did, they're in the minority, so they cannot force him out. The responsibility and burden for what happens rests squarely on the shoulders of Republicans.

I have never been much of an optimist. Indeed, I have been called a cynic by at least one friend. Do I think the GOP has it in them to save this country from the likes of Trump? Probably not. Indeed, some Senate and House Republicans are now calling for investigations into, you guessed it, Hillary Clinton. She's the gift that keeps on giving for these people. I predict that during the 2024 presidential election, we'll still be hearing about her emails.

Andrew Sullivan may have summed up the current crisis best:
The key is to sustain a sense of the urgency of the moment, a resolute refusal to accept this descent into an illiberal authoritarianism, and a decision to put all our differences aside for a year in order to mobilize a turnout next year that eclipses Obama’s. We have to turn the mid-terms into a presidential election. Sane Republicans need to vote for the Democrat. Leftists have to put aside their divisive identity politics. Liberals need to coalesce around a simple strategy - not impeaching but checking Trump decisively.
Tall orders to be sure, but no taller than the overthrow of an imperial government or a successful lunar landing. We need another giant leap for mankind, and we need it now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jeff Flake's Better Angels


That was no ordinary speech Jeff Flake delivered on the floor of the Senate Tuesday. The only thing that comes remotely close is Elizabeth Warren's now epic "Moment in the Sun" speech from 2014, in which she took on not only Wall Street but her own party in a manner that would've made Frank Capra blush with pride.

What Flake did was historic and unparalleled in American politics. He didn't just challenge a sitting president, or even his own party; he challenged the entire country as a whole. He didn't mince his words in the seventeen plus minutes he spoke. No hedging of bets or halfway measures. He was blunt and to the point, even if at times his voice crackled just a bit, as if he were delivering the eulogy of a dear friend. That friend being the United States of America.

Do not simply read the transcript; listen to it. Listen to ALL of it. And do not simply dismiss this speech as merely the parting shot of a lame duck senator who finally has the freedom to speak his mind because he knows he doesn't have to run again. In today's GOP, the courage to speak one's mind is as rare as a palm tree at the Arctic Circle. Look also past the obvious policy disagreements you may have with Flake. He is, despite what the wing nuts may say about him, an avout conservative who fervently believes in self-sufficiency, limited government, low taxes and equally low regulations. On any given day he would be a formidable opponent for the Democrats.

But this was not any given day; not by a long shot. While he may not have spoken as eloquently as Barack Obama, or as passionately as Warren or Bernie, the totality of what Flake said will continue to reverberate long after he and everyone we know is gone from this Earth. This was Lincoln at Gettysburg, only longer. I'm not kidding. The parallels are striking. Both men spoke of the deep divisions within the country. And while the Civil War claimed millions of lives and split the country in two, the divisions we now face are no less of a threat to the Union that Lincoln eventually gave his life to preserve.

And while I am hesitant to highlight any one part or parts of the speech - it was that good - two passages stand out. The first is aimed directly at Flake's own party; the second at all of us.
When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do -- because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum -- when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.
There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal -- but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people.
This populist appeal is the driving force behind Donald Trump's success, and to a certain extent, behind Bernie's as well. Make no mistake about it, but for the xenophobia, sexism and megalomania, Trump could've run as a Democrat and won. Not all backward-looking people are registered Republicans; some are independents who vote for "antiestablishment" candidates like Sanders. And they're not going anywhere.

This isn't just a Republican crisis, or a Democratic crisis; it's a national crisis. The inability of the people to fully comprehend the extent of the problems that beset them, coupled by a dearth of credible solutions to those problems has created the very "vacuum" that allowed Trump to rise to power. The corruption that has plagued both parties was perceived by the electorate as a cancer that only his tonic could cure.

In a sense, what Flake is doing is laying down the gauntlet, not just for members of his own party, but for all of us. He isn't just speaking out against Trump, like so many Democrats seem hellbent on doing; he's calling for an anti Trump to rise up and save the Republic. He will not be complicit and neither should we.

Much has been written about the flagrant lies that Donald Trump has told over the last two and a half years. Indeed, the Washington Post has compiled a tally of them. At present, it is well over a thousand since he was sworn in. But here's the thing to remember: it's only a lie if people think it's a lie. And to the people who voted for and continue to support him, Trump is as innocent as a newborn baby. Pointing out the number of lies he tells only helps him to solidify the hold he has over these people. Like any good despot, he revels in undermining the very institutions that have historically defined the nation. The more they attack him, the more secure his position becomes.

If there is an anti Trump out there, he or she will have to craft a positive vision for America that brings hope to the hopeless, encouragement to the frightened and a safe haven to the lost. Healing the wounds that separate us will not be an easy task. Sadly, I am not nearly as optimistic as Flake that "this spell will eventually break." We could be in a for a very long and painful ride.

Lincoln spoke of our better angels; Jeff Flake referenced them in his speech. Now it is up to us to resurrect them before it's too late.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Tales From the Book of Moron


Perhaps I should say Fucking Moron, as a certain Secretary of State is alleged to have called President Shit-for-Brains. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Either way, it's the same thing.

The shenanigans of this would-be dictator during his first nine months in office have been, by far, the most embarrassing period in our nation's history. And that's saying something considering that over the last two centuries we confiscated millions of acres of land from the indigenous population, fought a Civil War to free millions of African Americans from slavery only to subject them to decades of segregation under Jim Crow, interred Japanese Americans in camps during World War II, got involved in a land war in Southeast Asia in which we killed tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, endured the assassinations of a sitting president, a potential future president and the most transformative spiritual figure since Gandhi in the span of five years, saw a corrupt president forced to resign from office to avoid impeachment, and witnessed an unholy alliance between conservative Christians and a major political party.

To beat out those "illustrious" moments would be quite a fait ac·com·pli for anyone. And yet, in just the last 48 hours, Donald Trump has outdone even himself.  He signed two executive orders aimed at decapitating the Affordable Care Act, and then he announced he would not be certifying the Iran deal. Let's look at the executive orders first.

Executive order one allows for younger, healthier people to purchase health insurance with far less benefits at considerably cheaper rates. On the surface, this may seem like a good idea. As Jake Novak writes, one of Obamacare's biggest flaws was the belief by the Administration that if these cheaper plans were eliminated, young people would naturally sign up for the more comprehensive (e.g., expensive) plans. As it turns out, that didn't happen, at least not to the extent that the law's supporters were hoping for.

Trump's order would ostensibly reinstate those plans, thus allowing for potentially millions of people to gain access to affordable insurance. However, fixing one problem will create another, far worse one. Like it or not, it was those very same young, healthy people that helped defer the costs of the older, sicker ones. As Novak adroitly points out, "the sickest 5 percent of Americans are responsible for 50 percent of our annual healthcare spending." Giving this segment of the population an escape plan will eventually "destroy what's left of the private insurance market." When that happens, millions will be unable to afford to buy insurance.

As if that executive order wasn't bad enough, Trump's next one removed all doubt about what his intentions were. He decided to end all subsidies to healthcare providers as compensation for covering people with pre-existing conditions and no lifetime caps. His rationale - if you could use a word like that with Trump - was that these payments weren't necessary; they were just increasing the industry's bottom line. That simply isn't true. These subsidies were a vital cog in the law; without them, not only would people with pre-existing conditions have to pay more for insurance, but even those without such issues would see higher costs.

The irony here is that eliminating the subsidies will not affect those who qualify for discounts under the exchanges. They continue to get those reduced rates. The people who will be affected are those who are more than 400 percent above the poverty line and who buy their insurance through the private market providers. They will be required to make up for the loss of those government  subsidies, to the tune of, in some cases, a 20 percent hike in their rates. There's also the very real possibility that if these providers cannot make up the difference through the individual plans, they may be forced to raise their rates on employer-insurance plans. In other words, tens of millions of people would see their rates go up as a result of this executive order. How's that for spite?

As we speak, dozens of states are planning on filing a lawsuit to overturn Trump's second executive order. However, the prognosis looks bleak. You'll recall it was a federal court that initially ruled that the subsides were unconstitutional in the first place. The payments continued to be made pending an appeal by the Obama Administration. With Trump's order, the appeal is rendered academic, thus the lower court ruling will stand. A plaintiff would first have to sue to reverse the lower court decision; then, assuming it won, sue to compel the new administration to resume paying the subsidies. I'm not a lawyer and even I know that would be a herculean task.

But as cruel as Trump's executive orders on Obamacare were, his decision to not certify the Iran deal could be the dumbest move of his presidency, which is quite a statement given that only a few months ago he decided to pull out of the Paris-Climate Accord, another Obama legacy initiative. Sensing a pattern here, are we?

I didn't think it possible that Iran could ever hold the moral high ground in any dispute with the United States, but Doctor Fuckenstein allowed them to claim it by threatening not to honor the terms of the deal. And make no mistake about it, if we pull out of this deal - in other words, if we violate the terms of the pact - we will do so on our own. There is zero chance that Iran will agree to go back to the bargaining table, and even less than zero chance that the other nations which signed the deal would want to negotiate a new one. Even Congressional opponents of the deal from both parties have conceded that we are stuck with it.

Try telling that to Trump. He has given Congress just two months to come up with a deal he can live with - which I suppose means a deal where he gets everything he wants and everyone else gets bupkis - or else he will scrap it altogether. Given that any bill to amend the deal would require 60 votes in the Senate, that means Donnie boy will be disappointed. My God, this is the sort of behavior one expects out of toddlers; not a sitting president. Unfortunately for us, this is standard operating procedure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days.

We have in Donald Trump, a man who is uninformed and unwilling to learn. Indeed, he shows contempt for anyone or anything that challenges his preconceived notions. Only a few days ago, in a continuing feud with Rex Tillerson over how to handle North Korea, he said "I have a little bit different attitude than other people might have, but, ultimately, my attitude is the one that matters, isn't it?"

Sadly, in this instance, Trump is right, insofar as the Constitution is concerned. No matter what the adults in the room may want, in the end this man child of a president still has authority to start World War III if he feels like it. And that makes him the single greatest threat to humanity since the bubonic plague.

Come to think of it, calling Trump a fucking moron is a compliment when you consider all the alternatives.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough!


As a Christian, I am well aware of the power of prayer. It is referenced in scripture over and over. In one particular passage in Matthew 17, Jesus says to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." Even on the night of his arrest, Jesus knelt in the garden and prayed for the strength he would need to carry out his father's will. If the Son of God felt the need to pray, we certainly have no excuse for failing to do so.

But prayer alone is not enough. It must be followed up with action. James, in his Epistle, makes the best case for this argument.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
James was not discounting the importance of prayer; nor was he saying that our salvation had to be earned. What he was saying is that we must live out our faith through our actions. Indeed, it is those very actions that define the quality of our faith in the eyes of God. In Matthew 25, Jesus admonishes those who are miserly with their inheritance when he says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Ever since the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I have heard Republican after Republican utter the following phrase: "My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this senseless tragedy." Sometimes they write "our thoughts and prayers," as if somehow turning it into a plural statement gives it more authority.

But to those who were affected by this "senseless" tragedy, parsing the difference is academic. A loved one has been violently taken from them, never to return. There is one less father, mother, uncle, aunt, sibling, child, or friend to love and grow old with. Thoughts and prayers do little to alleviate the pain and suffering that will take months, if not years, to heal. To pay lip service, as these politicians do, only adds insult to injury.

I have heard every single rationalization from opponents of gun-control from the sublime to the ridiculous. My favorite is that knives can kill people too, so why don't we have knife control. I have two comebacks to that convoluted logic: One, I can still use a knife for cutting the food on my plate; there is only one purpose for owning a gun, and that is to kill people. Two, "When a 64-year old white man kills 58 people and wounds 500 more in 15 minutes from 1200 feet with a knife, I will absolutely call for knife control. Until then, you've made the world's shittiest point." I lifted the latter from someone on Facebook, hence the quotations.

But shitty or not, that, and other arguments just like it, are what lobbyists like the NRA and the vast majority of Republicans continue to dish out. Here's one of my favorites: Guns don't kill people, people kill people. I agree, so let's at least keep guns out of the reach of those people who might use them to kill, like the mentally ill. Sorry, we can't do that. That would go against the Second Amendment.

So obsessed are they with protecting the rights of gun owners, the GOP is currently considering a bill that would allow the sale of silencers. Can you imagine how many more rounds of ammunition Stephen Paddock could've gotten off if no one had been able to hear where the shots were coming from? The death toll that night might well have been twice as high as it was.

I keep coming back to a piece I wrote shortly after the Newtown massacre. The problem, as I saw it, wasn't just a lack of regulation, it was the Second Amendment itself.
How many more must needlessly die to defend a strict interpretation of an amendment that, if you read it closely and honestly, seems to be referring to a "well regulated militia" not an absolute right?
Throughout most of the country's history, gun ownership was NOT considered an absolute right. In 1939, the Supreme Court in United States v. Miller ruled unanimously that "the Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have 'some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia.'" That decision was upheld in 1980 in Lewis v. United States, and until the Heller decision in 2008 it was the law of the land.

For the last nine years, the gun nuts have had their way: first, by successfully framing the question of gun safety as an attack on the Constitution; secondly, by effectively killing any attempt at imposing restrictions on the sale of guns. When the mentally ill can legally buy firearms and silencers may soon become available to the public, the train has jumped the track.

So what are we to do? Well, first off, we should get up off our knees. We've prayed and prayed and nothing has changed. The problem here is not a lack of will on the part of God, but a lack of will on ours. Divine intervention isn't likely to occur, so it is up to us.

Secondly, we need to reframe the whole debate on guns by exposing the plot of a small, but powerful, group of men who are perfectly fine with allowing this country to be turned into a shooting gallery for their own political and monetary gains. They have subverted the original intent of the Second Amendment. The only way to defeat them is by going back to what the framers intended. Simply calling for tougher, more "reasonable" restrictions on gun sales will not solve the problem; indeed it plays right into the NRA's hands.

Let's look at two "reasonable" restrictions that some on the Left would like to see implemented: keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and outlawing the bump stock, which allowed Paddock to turn his semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones. The former would not have stopped him from legally purchasing guns because he was not mentally ill, or at least he was never treated for any mental illness that we know of; and even if the latter had been law, he still could've killed a lot of people that night. All the bump stock did was make it easier for him to keep firing his weapons.

And therein lies the stumbling block for gun-control advocates. Reasonable measures, as it turns out, not only don't prevent these tragedies from happening, they help opponents of gun control by making the case for them that the Left's real agenda isn't about safety, it's about the taking away of personal liberty. It's an argument they consistently keep winning over and over again.

Look, I have been critical of the Left's unwillingness to compromise on a wide range of issues from healthcare to tax reform to college tuition. In my opinion, it's cost Democrats chances at building support with moderate voters. But there are some causes - like global warming - which couldn't be more black and white. Our future as a species depends on us drastically reducing CO2 emissions, and quickly. Trust me, it doesn't get any more black and white than extinction.

Gun control is every bit the black and white issue that global warming is, and it demands the same all-out war that climate scientists have waged on behalf of the environment. Half measures will not work. The Left must pull out all the stops and educate the public on what the Second Amendment actually says, not what the NRA would like people to think it says.

For instance, most people, when you bring up the Amendment, don't even know that the first part of it deals directly with a "well-regulated militia." Any objective reading of it must conclude that the intent of the Founders was to protect the rights of those militia men to own and possess guns for the "security" of the nation. If, as the NRA maintains, the Amendment was intended to guarantee the right of all people to own and possess guns, why bother to include the militias at all? We are, after all, talking about learned men who were brilliant and light years ahead of their time. They chose their words carefully. It is inconceivable to me that they would leave something this important to chance.

The thing is, I don't believe they did. I think they fully expected us to use our common sense and arrive at the same conclusion they made over 200 years ago. We haven't had any need for militias since the formation of a free-standing army, so basically, we don't really need the Second Amendment. It's about as relevant now as the Eighteenth was when it was finally repealed in 1933.

Now I fully realize this will be a difficult case to make, especially in a country that is as in love with its guns as ours. No other nation on Earth has a history that celebrates gun ownership in such a manner. Even among people who support "common-sense" gun regulation, a majority still believe that the right to own a gun is sacrosanct. If the specter of 20 children being shot to death in a school hasn't changed their minds, it is doubtful anything can.

But that is no excuse for not trying. As a Christian, my faith teaches me that God is far more interested with our character than our comfort. It's high time we started doing some character building, good people. To simply throw up our hands in disgust while so many of our brothers and sisters pay the ultimate price betrays the very scripture we claim to hold dear. At the one-year anniversary of Newtown, I wrote the following in a letter to the children who were slaughtered:
It is not enough just to honor your memory with a moment of silence. Silence has been our problem all along. If we are truly interested in honoring your memory, we must shout out at the tops of our lungs that we are tired of burying our children like this. This madness must end.
Another word for madness is insanity. And the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.