Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don't Confuse Donald Trump With A Businessman

I've been hearing the above statement - or something similar - from a lot of people ever since il Duce rose to power. The failures of the Trump Administration, they argue, is proof positive that you can't elect business people to run the government. It's simply beyond their capabilities to handle.

To which I say, bullshit!

Look, I'm not suggesting that running a business and being the chief executive of the largest bureaucracy on the planet are analogous, and no doubt there are many facets of the latter which cannot and should not be run like a business. For instance, businesses must earn a profit and I wouldn't want agencies like the FDA or the FAA - which are tasked with regulating the food we eat and the planes we fly in - to be motivated by profit. Just the opposite, in fact.

But please, let's stop this nonsense that Trump's ineptitude is due to the fact that he has no experience in government and that he thinks like a businessman. Apart from Trump I know of no one who's successful in business who behaves like this idiot. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, even Marc Cuban, none of them would act like this.

In fact the only person that comes even remotely close to matching Trump's bizarre and eccentric behavior would be Steve Jobs. But while Jobs did everything humanly possible to make people despise him, in the end he transformed an entire industry and invented another, creating millions of jobs in the process. Apart from making a few tax accountants filthy rich by keeping him from going bankrupt, the only thing Trump has managed to do successfully is to find enough gullible people to license his name to.

No, Trump's problems have nothing to do with his background, but rather who and what he is. The fact is we have a 70 year old man child living in the White House. He could've been a career politician and the results would've been the same. To quote Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."

How can I be so sure? After all, how do I know that Bill Gates in his own way wasn't just as bad as Trump? The difference, one might argue, was that Gates lived in the world of technology, whereas Trump came from the real estate industry. The former was primarily a private person; the latter far more flamboyant. Maybe deep down, both men were just as egotistical and full of themselves and that the only reason we know about Trump's idiosyncrasies is that he chose to air them in public.

Okay, let's play this out. Let's assume that all successful business people have huge egos. After all, Gates's company Microsoft was once sued by the Justice Department because it was believed to be a monopoly. Though the suit eventually failed, it nonetheless tarnished the reputation of Gates. Cuban has been in the public spotlight more than the Kardashians these days. And he hasn't exactly been the poster boy for restraint of tongue. Bloomberg thinks so highly of himself he took advantage of a loophole that allowed him to serve three terms as mayor of New York City, then had the audacity to support a measure that would've restored the city's two-term limit, AFTER he had been elected for the third time. Now that's balls.

So why do these men get a pass and not Trump? Because while all three of these men, I'll admit, have huge egos the size of the Grand Canyon, all of them have had the good sense to surround themselves with quality people who - and this is the rub - actually run their companies. Yes, as strange as it may seem, successful businessmen and women hire people to carry out the day-to-day operations of their companies. As CEOs, they chart the course, then turn the helm over to their respective officers and management. In return those people are responsible to them for the results. Even with all their enormous egos, successful business people have enough humility to know they can't run the show by themselves. They are only as good as the people directly under them.

Just this past weekend I was one of about a hundred or so sales reps who were honored by the senior management of my company at a posh resort in the Dominican Republic. It was a proud moment for me. The senior vice president of the company started off by acknowledging the enormous contributions all of us had made to the company and said this weekend would not be possible without us. You see he knew that success is a shared accomplishment not simply a policy initiative handed down by the president. Without our efforts there'd be no company. He knew that and so do the Bill Gates and Marc Cubans of the world.

I can just imagine Trump addressing his people at a similar awards celebration. He'd probably say something like, "I'd like to thank myself, because without me none of you would be here today. My greatness is the reason you all have jobs and your failures are the sole reason we haven't been as successful as we could be." If you think I'm being too harsh, remember the Yemen raid that went bad a few months ago that led to the death of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens? Rather than take responsibility for the failure, the first thing Trump did was blame his generals. No real leader - or man for that matter - would ever have done that.

Another character trait of successful business people is that they know how to build partnerships. While they always put their own company's interests first, they know full well that without strong relationships with their partners they will inevitably fail. It's called quid pro quo and every salesperson I know has employed it to one degree or another. Successful negotiation involves giving up something to get something. Our economy - indeed the world economy - depends on this basic principle. It's the common thread that binds us all together. Only a fool would believe he could go it alone.

Take a good look at Trump and tell me what you see. If you can honestly say that you don't see any difference between how his administration and most businesses are run, I pray you never start one yourself. You'd be broke in six months. The truth is the differences are night and day. The chaos that has enveloped this White House is the direct result of a man who has all the machinations of a would-be king, but none of the wisdom. He hires people and then refuses to let them do their jobs. Worse, he often undermines them in public. He is the consummate control freak who needs to be the center of attention everywhere he goes. It isn't just that he has a YUGE ego; it's that he sucks the oxygen out of the room.

This isn't genius personified, it's the sign of a very insecure man who is deathly afraid of being found out. He almost reminds me of George Steinbrenner, save for the fact that while Steinbrenner was a notorious micro manager, he did have the good sense to hire Gabe Paul and Gene Michael as GMs. The former was responsible for building the team that won two consecutive World Series titles in the 1970s; the latter built the team that won four championships in five years from 1996 to 2000. And though Steinbrenner could be vindictive and often treated his managers terribly, he was also fiercely loyal and generous to a fault to those who worked for him. Billy Martin may have been fired by him three times, but he was handsomely rewarded while in his employ, as was just about everyone else who worked for him. He was the very definition of a contradiction in terms.

There is no such contradiction in terms with Trump. The man is as obvious as a wooden nickel and just as shallow. He demands complete loyalty from his employees, yet never shows any in return. He screws his partners, berates people he doesn't like and threatens those who challenge his authority, be they the press, the intelligence community or his own cabinet. He has no moral compass to speak of and openly flaunts his contempt for the law and those who enforce it. He does not inspire confidence in his employees, but rather fear and loathing. The massive leaks that have come to define his administration are a plea for help from those who are rightly concerned by what they are witnessing.

And what they are witnessing should terrify all of us. It is the understatement of the century to say we are in unchartered waters. The leader of the free world is running amok. He is not the answer to our prayers; if anything he is our worst nightmare come true. A man bereft of even the smallest semblance of humility, with no business acumen to speak of, zero communication skills and the maturity of a pro wrestler. As I said in my last piece, he has all the impulse control of a four-year old in front of a batch of cookies.

To confuse Donald Trump with a businessman is to impugn the integrity of millions of successful business people across the country and around the world. Maybe one day someone with an actual resume in the business community will get elected president. Then and only then will we finally be able to put this issue of whether a government can be run like a business to bed.

Until that day we are stuck with Donald Trump.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Now It's Mueller's Investigation

The announcement by Rod Rosenstein that he has appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to take over the Russia investigation is encouraging, and for two reasons: First, it's a ray of hope for millions of Americans who were rightly concerned that the wheels were coming off this democracy. Two, it's a thorough rebuke to this president who thought he was above the law but was rudely reminded of just how resilient the system truly is.

Whatever else you may think of the Mueller appointment, there are two things to remember: One, he is meticulously thorough as an investigator. Everyone who knows him has vouched for his character and professionalism. Two, he won't be bullied. [He once threatened to resign while head of the FBI over the NSA's eavesdropping program.] In other words, whatever is out there, Mueller will find it. Oh, and I should also point out that his close ties with James Comey doesn't exactly hurt matters.

But while Democrats are publicly lauding this move and progressives are absolutely giddy at the prospects of Donald Trump being led out in chains, I would hold off on the celebration. For one thing, we are still in the early stages of this investigation. It took almost two years of painstaking investigations by Congressional committees and a litany of courageous journalists who stuck out their necks in pursuit of the truth to bring down Nixon. From what we know of this investigation, there are many more layers and subplots. It could well take years before we know the full scope of what happened.

Granted, for all the parallels between this White House and the Nixon White House, there is one important difference: Nixon, despite his obsession for power, was very much an establishment Republican who, from all accounts, was an otherwise accomplished president. He did after all open the door to relations with Communist China, establish the EPA and took the U.S. off the gold standard. And his administration was for the most part functional.

Trump is the polar opposite. Apart from appointing a conservative to the Supreme Court he has virtually no accomplishments to show for his three and a half months in office. And his administration is in constant turmoil and chaos. Nixon chose his words carefully, Trump tweets the first thing that pops into his head. He has all the impulse control of a four-year old in front of a batch of cookies.

Still, as I write this, two things are certain: One, the White House did not want this, and that is a good sign. It means that they're very concerned about where this investigation could lead. But two, now that this investigation is in the hands of a competent and independent prosecutor, Republicans will finally be able to concentrate on their agenda: killing Obamacare, slashing every regulation on the books and giving YUGE tax breaks to billionaires and millionaires. Meaning Democrats are now going to have to focus their attention squarely on stopping Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell from destroying what's left of the middle class. So long as Trump was the center of attention, they were free to devote all their resources on him and the GOP was forced to play defense.

Funny how things can turn on a dime. Twenty-four hours go, we were talking about how this president both divulged classified intelligence to the Russians and attempted to impede the investigation of a member of his administration. The former has the potential to undermine our relationships with our allies and endanger our security; the latter, if true, is an impeachable offense. Now all the talk is going to be about Robert Mueller and his quest for the truth. The GOP catches a break and, for the time being at least, so does Trump.

As for the Democrats, they have an important special election in Georgia coming up, as well as the 2018 midterms to concern themselves with. Thanks to Rod Rosenstein doing the right thing, they will be forced to do something they haven't been very good at for quite some time: make the case to the American people for why they should be in charge.

Since Barack Obama's ascendency to power in '08, they have lost the Congress, the majority of state houses and the presidency. Rarely has a party's fortunes taken such a hit over such a short period of time. Rebuilding that fortune will be a tall task indeed.

Being anti Trump isn't going to convince the electorate to come back home. It was just that sort of delusional thinking that landed this man child in the White House in the first place.

Monday, May 15, 2017

What Schumer and the Dems Need To Do Regarding Comey's Replacement

It's nice that Chuck Schumer is drawing his own red line by demanding that any new FBI director not be a "partisan politician" from "either party," and that voting on James Comey's replacement might be contingent upon the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Donald Trump and his administration.

Unfortunately for Schumer, Democrats only have 48 seats in the Senate - that's why he's the minority leader and not the majority leader. At present, all Trump needs is 50 Republican senators to do what they've been doing since he was sworn in as president: turn a blind eye and pretend the Republic isn't in mortal jeopardy. Up until now, with a couple of exceptions, things have gone pretty much according to his plan.

So in order to deny Il Duce an opportunity to name a lackey that will ostensibly quash the Russian investigation, Schumer is going to need some help; and by help I mean finding three Republicans who will be brave enough to join ranks with his party. That won't be easy, not in this polarized environment. As we speak Mitch McConnell is working on a way to fast track an Obamacare repeal bill through the Senate without going through committee. In other words, despite their criticisms of the way the lower chamber handled the repeal process, the GOP is fixing to do virtually the same thing in the upper chamber. How's that for underhanded?

Still Schumer must do the seemingly impossible, even if it means sacrificing a rook or a knight to do it. As strange as it might seem, this latest stunt by Trump has aroused some concerns even within his own party. This could give Schumer and Democrats just the opening they need to block him and perhaps get the special prosecutor they've been asking for ever since Comey first went public about the FBI investigation.

Unlike the House, there are still a number of "moderate" Republicans in the Senate. I use the term moderate only because once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, they would've been referred to as conservative. They are basically what's left of the George H.W. Bush / Bob Dole wing of the party; just left of Reagan and a football field's length away from the current rank and file. You can count 'em on one hand plus one finger: John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Richard Burr, Rob Portman and Dean Heller. FYI: with the exception of Burr, they're also among the likely senators who could derail the ACA repeal effort. Just saying.

Schumer needs to find a way to entice at least three of these senators to not only block Trump, but to stand up with the Democrats and demand a special prosecutor. McCain would be my first choice. Call it my women's intuition - we all have it - but I suspect McCain has never quite gotten over Trump's slight at him during the primaries and would like nothing better than to return the favor. A "no" vote would do just nicely. As to a special prosecutor, McCain has been an advocate of it for weeks.

Next up would be Burr. As the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he along with Vice-chair Mark Warner, are currently investigating possible collusion between members of the Trump Administration and Russia. He is already on record as saying Comey's dismissal was "troubling." While Burr may not agree to a special prosecutor, he might be inclined to insist that any future FBI director be non-partisan.

My third choice would be Murkowski or Collins or both. If approached properly, I think both could be persuaded to, if not support a special prosecutor, than at least demand that Trump pick someone qualified, with no political ties to head the FBI. If both sign on that would give Schumer a total of 52 "no" votes with which to compel Trump to do the right thing.

But in order to get the aforementioned senators to jump ship, Schumer might have to give up something of importance. Obamacare shouldn't be it. The way Republicans are getting it from their constituents at town halls, why on Earth would Schumer part with that bargaining chip? More than likely, Schumer will have to blink on tax reform. Without a total repeal of the tax subsidies in Obamacare - which Republicans can do through reconciliation - McConnell will need 60 votes to get any tax plan through. Schumer could dangle some of his members support in exchange for getting some Republicans to show some spine. A quid pro quo of sorts.

It would be quite a gamble. The sort of tax reform the GOP is proposing would blow a hole the size of the Grand Canyon through the deficit and might well double or triple the debt over the next ten years. Schumer could make his members' support conditional upon some kind of role in the drafting of the legislation. While it's unlikely McConnell would agree to that condition, Schumer should at least make the attempt. If nothing else it would give Democrats another issue to run on in next year's midterms.

Grand speeches are laudable, as are declarations, but desperate times call for desperate measures. We are dealing with a would-be dictator who is doing everything possible to eliminate any and all obstacles to his authority. History will not care how he was stopped; only that he was.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Coup Begins

Let me state this as bluntly as I can. If you think for a moment that Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because of the way he handled the Clinton email server investigation last year, I would strongly advise you to stay out of Vegas for the foreseeable future; you'll lose your shirt and the kids tuition to boot.

The firing of Sally Yates should've sounded the alarm. We now know that just days before she was removed from her post as acting Attorney General she warned the Administration that Michael Flynn was compromised; Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (which just happens to include Trump Tower), was unceremoniously fired; and now the man who was in charge of the agency that was conducting a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign has been terminated. These aren't mere coincidences, there's a disturbing pattern here.

These are the actions not of a president of a free and open society, but of a strong man of a petty dictatorship. Do not believe for a second the lame excuse from the White House that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's letter condemning Comey's conduct during the Clinton investigation - which, to be fair, is inexcusable - was the reason for this move. If that were the case, why not fire Comey on January 20? Why wait over three months to make a decision any reasonable person could've made on day one.

No, this came directly from the top, and the timing was so brazenly arrogant that it demands a special, independent prosecutor to thoroughly investigate the matter. Nothing short of that will suffice. We haven't had a Constitutional crisis like this since Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox in 1973. It is clear the Department of Justice has been compromised and now, with Comey out of the way, the FBI's active investigation is in serious jeopardy.

Not all Democracies die by the sword; some die from a fountain pen. We are in treacherous waters as a Republic. We have a president who is openly contemptuous of the rule of law, berates judges who challenge his executive orders, calls the media fake news, pulls alternative facts out of his ass, heaps praise upon despots, appoints his family to ostensibly run his administration, and is taking steps to eliminate any threats to his authority from within the federal government. If that isn't a textbook definition of a coup I don't know what is.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans will finally show some spine and stand up to Trump before it's too late. Frankly, I wouldn't hold my breath. Both the Senate and House intelligence committees are woefully understaffed, meaning if Trump succeeds in getting the FBI to drop its investigation, Congress may never be able to get at the truth.

The courts may be the last vestige of hope for this nation if the legislative branch fails in its duty. But even they may not be able to thwart Trump entirely, especially since the Supreme Court has the final word and it is now fully manned with five conservatives and four liberals on the bench. In other words, we could be fucked.

I know progressives are concerned about the fate of Obamacare, women's reproductive rights, the environment, etc, and rightly so. But all of that must take second fiddle to what is happening right in front of our very eyes. I was only 13 years old when Nixon resigned in disgrace. Back then the system worked, and the Constitution, despite being severely tested, withstood the assault. I am not so optimistic that we will come out of it this time.

Some rabbit holes are too deep to climb out of.