Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins Are the Real Heroes in GOP Repeal Fail

Yes, technically speaking, John McCain was the senator who cast the deciding vote that torpedoed Mitch McConnell's "skinny" repeal bill, the one that supposedly no Republican, save for maybe Ted Cruz, wanted to pass and that, for some peculiar reason, all of them seemed to believe Paul Ryan would prevent from going to a vote on the floor of the House, which only goes to show that they are as gullible as they are uncaring.

But here's the thing: had it not been for Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine senator Susan Collins, McCain's vote would've been meaningless. That's because their two "no" votes brought the whole thing to a head early Friday morning and set the stage for McCain's dramatic moment of truth. If either of them had succumbed to the pressures exerted by their colleagues - and in the case of Murkowski, to the threats by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke towards her entire state - then the House at this very moment would be attempting to reconcile the Senate and House bills and we would be days, perhaps hours, away from the Affordable Care Act being history.

I won't mince words here [do I ever?]: there aren't a lot of "moderate" Republicans left in the Senate, and even fewer in the House. And those that are left choose their spots very carefully, lest they feel the wrath of their colleagues. For instance, when both Collins and Murkowski joined forces with West Virginia senator Shelley Moore Capito a week ago to prevent a GOP repeal bill from even making it to the floor for debate, all three were viciously attacked by conservative pundits who called their action traitorous.

One of that harshest attacks came from Texas congressman Blake Farenthold, who said he'd like to challenge all three to a duel. "Some of the people that are opposed to this, there are female senators from the Northeast ... If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style." Apparently, Farenthold doesn't know that a) dueling is illegal, and b) West Virginia and Alaska are not in the Northeast. At least not the last time I checked a map.

But Collins and Murkowski, to me, are more than just "moderates"; they are the last of a dying breed. While both are Republicans, neither has been all that shy about challenging their party's orthodoxy when they felt it needed challenging. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the states they represent. Maine has always been something of square peg in a round hole. It has elected Republicans, Democrats and Independents. It's even elected aliens - e.g., Paul LePage. Sorry, I just couldn't resist. I've vacationed in the state several times and it defies categorization, which means that conservative attempts at intimidating Collins are likely to fail. If anything, her courage, in the face of stiff opposition, has probably earned her more, not less, respect among her constituents.

As for Alaska, while it is most assuredly a conservative state - Trump won it by 15 points - by no means is it an ideologically driven one. Let's remember, Murkowski won a three-way race as an independent after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller in 2010. Also, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson got almost 6 percent of the vote last year, a considerably higher percentage than he got in most other states. It appears Alaskans also don't like being bullied around.

Not only do they not take kindly to intimidation tactics, when threatened they respond in kind. After Zinke's little stunt failed to force Murkowski to change her vote, she reciprocated by announcing that, as Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she would be "delaying" hearings for several Trump Administration appointees to the Department of the Interior. A spokesperson for the Committee said the delay was "due to uncertainty of the Senate schedule." Yeah, that's it: uncertainty. I'm going with that. Ain't payback a bitch? Put that in your pipe, Ryan, and smoke it.

Bottom line is this: while I applaud John McCain for having the cajones to stand up to Mitch and the gang, the real heroes of the GOP Senate are two women from opposite ends of the continent, who courageously put country ahead of party, and who did so knowing what the costs would be. And it would behove Democrats to reach out to both and come up with a bi-partisan healthcare plan that will hopefully preempt yet another GOP scheme to kill Obamacare.

And make no mistake about it, we haven't seen the last of Republican efforts at repealing this law.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

We're All Fucked!

In the grand scheme of things, my little blog amounts to a couple of grains of sand in a vast desert. No matter how much importance I and the few brave souls who bother to read its words attach to it, the fact is it's one of millions of other blogs out there. Thanks to the internet and social media, there is no limit to the number of people whose opinions are now available to the viewing public.

But that hasn't stopped me from passionately presenting my views; nor has it shielded me from those whose views I might but heads with. When it comes to politics, I'm often reminded of what a bartender once told me years ago. The reason, he said, that I don't talk about religion and politics is that the moment I open my mouth I lose half the bar.

A salient point, if ever there was one. And one which I have adopted in my sales career. No sense needlessly pissing off a potential customer over which candidate they like or may have voted for; not when there's a mortgage to pay and food to buy.

But this isn't sales, nor am I a bartender. And, as anyone who knows me all too well will tell you, I am not shy in the last bit about sharing my thoughts with any and all who have the misfortune of getting within earshot. And when push comes to shove, I throw down with the best of them. I seriously believe I could make the Pope curse if I put the effort in.

There are two kinds of stupid people when it comes to politics. Those who naively fall for the bullshit of evil politicians who promise them the world; and those who arrogantly believe they are somehow better or superior to those people. The former earns my pity; the latter my contempt.

Ever since November 8, I have tried to wrap my head around what happened and why. For the most part, all I've gotten is a headache. But there have been moments of clarity when things started to fall into place. There are things I know now that I didn't then, and I have done my best to write about them with as much zeal as I can muster.

The most frustrating thing about the last seven months has been the reluctance of certain people I know to accept some very painful facts that I feel are self evident. I am no stranger to words like denial; I have spent the better part of my adult life, along with a considerable amount of my money, breaking through various stages of it. But when it comes to the fate of this nation and the planet, I confess I have no more patience to spend on people who are not only in denial but have decided to drown themselves in a pool of self pity.

Of course by now, if you've been paying attention to my blog postings, you know full well where I'm going with this. And let me prepare you in advance: this isn't going to be pretty. In fact, I'm willing to bet that after reading this some of you might very well unfriend me. Unfriend away. I have, at last count, about 250 friends on Facebook. I assure you the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west if that number goes down, say, 200. Or lower!

I have heard about enough from Hillary supporters who simply won't bring themselves to accept that, though qualified in every way for the office of president, she did everything humanly possible not to win it. She was a lousy candidate with no message worth a damn, who arrogantly presumed she could spend the entire campaign talking about what a repugnant pig Trump was (no shit, Sherlock), and that somehow the electorate would reward her with a victory. I have been following politics since I was a teenager. To the best of my knowledge not one successful candidate has ever employed that strategy.

From Nixon, to Carter, to Reagan, to Bush 41, to Bill Clinton, to Bush 43, to Obama, you can go up and down the list and everyone of them ran a campaign that stood for something. The losers, by comparison, didn't. In my 21 years in sales, I know of no instance in which a successful company ever increased its market share by simply bashing its competition. In sales, as in politics, the way to succeed is by satisfying a need, be it a flat-panel TV or hope for a better tomorrow.

Not only didn't Hillary Clinton inspire hope, when she did get the opportunity to "satisfy a need" she would often direct people to her website to check out her policy proposals. Are you fucking kidding me? You get the chance to make your case to the American people and you punt like that? In a debate, no less? She might as well have gift-wrapped the presidency for Trump. To quote Andrew Sullivan: "I find myself wondering at odd times of the day and night: Why is Trump in the White House? And then I remember. Hillary Clinton put him there."

Oh, yes, I know I'm being so cruel to her. I outta be ashamed of myself. After all, she did get three million more votes than Trump. Doesn't that count for something? Yeah, it counts about as much as a losing hockey team whining that they outshot their opponent, therefore they should've won. Hey, snapper heads, it's the final score that counts! I'm so done with this popular vote bullshit. Get over it. We have an electoral college system in this country. Yes, it sucks; yes, it's embarrassing; yes, the rest of the fee world - and a good chuck of the unfree world - is laughing at us. Guess what? It ain't going anywhere. Al Gore won the popular vote. So did Hillary. They both lost. Deal with it.

But James Comey and Vladimir Putin. Let me ask you a few questions. Did the whole country get a chance to listen in on Jimbo's October surprise? Do they have access to cable news channels in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Virginia? I'm guessing they do. I'm also guessing that when the Russians did their hacking job they pretty much went after everyone who owned a computer, which would include people in the above-mentioned states. So, how is it that Hillary won those states, yet managed to lose Ohio by almost half a million votes and Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by a mere 82 thousand votes?

As Judge Smails would say, "Well? We're waiting!"

Oh yeah, those 82 thousand votes. That sticks in one's craw don't it? Hillary supporters can't let that one go, either. As I was rudely reminded by yet another of her apologists, Trump won by only one percent in those three states. Another went even further by pointing out the election came down to three counties in those states with known voter suppression. Of course, the monkey wrench in both these arguments is that Obama, four years earlier, had not only won all three states, but did so impressively, along with Ohio, Iowa and Florida. Was there no voter suppression in 2012? Or in '08?

To another apologist who thought it necessary to point out the distinction between blue-collar workers and white blue-collar workers, I would remind him Obama won both demographics convincingly in both of his elections. And while I'm sure racism played a role in the 2016 election, the sad fact is that we've had racism in this country since its inception. There's been no solid evidence that it was the decisive factor in this or any other presidential election. Sorry people, these excuses are the very definition of lame if ever there was one. And I, for one, will not dignify them any further. The truth is that Clinton received 1 million fewer votes than Obama in the all-important swing states. To reiterate what I commented on earlier in that Facebook post, SHE GOT HER CLOCK CLEANED BY TRUMP. PERIOD!

But lest you think I'm giving Bernie a free pass, I'm not. I was tough on him during the campaign and with good reason. I felt and still feel that he had no tangible plan for how to implement his agenda once in office. And his supporters often acted like spoiled brats who didn't get everything they wanted under the Christmas tree. Their insistence that the DNC somehow stole the nomination from him and gave it to Hillary ranks up there with the 9/11 Truthers for most outlandish conspiracy theory ever. And while it's impossible to know whether he would've beaten Trump in the general, my gut tells me that his past would've come back to haunt him. I think Kurt Eichenwald is right: "the Republicans would've torn him apart."

But this much I will give him and his supporters. In hindsight, they were right and the rest of us were wrong. Long before that toxic waste dump of a human being we now call president ever threw his hat into the ring, Sanders was on to something. He knew there was trouble brewing in the Rust-Belt states and he tried to warn us. He accurately predicted that Democrats would pay a price for ignoring the concerns and frustrations of working-class people in this region. The loss of manufacturing jobs and the decline in middle-income wages would force these people to do the unthinkable: vote for a charlatan. And they did just that last November.

Give Trump credit. He saw an opening and he took it. I don't believe for a moment that he never wanted to win. There's a difference between not thinking you're going to win and not playing to win. Trump and his team may not have thought they were going to win the election, but they most assuredly acted as if they wanted to. Do you honestly believe that someone as tight as Trump is with money would spend even a nickel of it if he didn't want the presidency? Of course not. He knew - as did everyone else - that Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee and, like Bernie, he knew she was vulnerable. The difference between Sanders and Trump - apart from the xenophobia, sexism, racism, etc - is that Trump went after her jugular, whereas Bernie refused to. For all the talk about how personal and bitter the Democratic primaries were, they were nothing compared to the Republican primaries.

But I would be remiss if I didn't go after the one group of people who are truly beneath contempt: the "Both candidates are equally bad" contingent of morons and buffoons who barely have the capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time, yet somehow managed to fuck up the layup election of their lifetimes. All throughout the campaign they shot their mouths off as though they were the political guardians of moral turpitude. I can still hear them in my mind's ear: "Hillary's just as corrupt as Trump, therefore I'm not voting for either of them." Here, I'll defer to Eichenwald:
A certain kind of liberal makes me sick. These people traffic in false equivalencies, always pretending that both nominees are the same, justifying their apathy and not voting or preening about their narcissistic purity as they cast their ballot for a person they know cannot win. I have no problem with anyone who voted for Trump, because they wanted a Trump presidency. I have an enormous problem with anyone who voted for Trump or Stein or Johnson—or who didn’t vote at all—and who now expresses horror about the outcome of this election. If you don’t like the consequences of your own actions, shut the hell up.
Later on in the piece, Eichenwald invites these people to "go have sex with themselves." He is a gentleman; I am not. So let me put it in much blunter terms: Go fuck yourselves! And not just you but the boat you sailed in on. Thanks to your gross negligence and ignorance you have saddled this nation with the most incompetent, dangerous president it has ever had. Next to him, Clinton would've been a combination of FDR, Lincoln and Truman.

I'm not joking around here. There's a vast difference between someone who is flawed and arrogant and someone who is unhinged. What we have witnessed over these last six months has no parallel in American history. If you still believe that a Clinton presidency would've been no different than the current one, you are smoking some strange shit that I'm certain is illegal even in Colorado.

As for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, don't make me laugh. Johnson didn't know what or where Aleppo was and Stein doesn't even know what planet she's on. Put the two of them together and you still don't have enough gray matter to form a sentient being. If you are one of those people who actually thought that either of these two asshats was a legitimate alternative to Clinton, I pray that you never reproduce. The thought of your offspring populating this planet makes me ill.

And last, but not least, the Democratic Party. It goes without saying that this is a party in disarray. Sadly, it also goes without saying that its leadership, or lack thereof, still hasn't come to grips about what happened last November, anymore than Hillary's supporters or Clinton herself. It's as though they're all locked in a time warp and they can't get out.

I suspect that deep down they probably know they fucked up; they just can't or won't admit it to themselves. After all, they put all their eggs in the basket of identity politics and it boomeranged on them. And by doing so, they wrote off two thirds of the country. So instead of correcting course, they are doubling down. All they need, they maintain, is greater turnout in the cities to offset their losses in the suburbs and the sticks. As if a few more black and Hispanic votes would've changed the outcome of the election.

It's a double edged sword that they can't extricate themselves from. On the one hand, their base is in the cities, so they don't want to alienate any of them. On the other hand, the votes they need to avoid a repeat performance in 2020 are outside of those cities. The trick is to not lose the former while pursuing the latter. And right now, that is a task that appears to be well beyond their reach.

So, to sum up:

Hillary supporters: The election is over. Grow up and change your diapers. You're stinking up the joint.

Bernie supporters: You were right, we were wrong. Now quit the "I told you so" platitudes. Nobody likes a spoiled sport.

False equivalency nutjobs: Feel free to depart the planet on the next mother ship.

Democratic Party: Find a message that resonates with a majority of voters; then find a messenger worthy of carrying it.

You can now start unfriending me if you like, but know this: If things don't start fundamentally changing soon, I've got some bad news.

We are all fucked. Each and everyone of us.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Chuck Schumer Finally Gets the Memo

“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself. So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.” - Chuck Schumer

I'll be honest, I've given Schumer a lot of crap over the years. His decision to pander to his base and force Mitch McConnell to invoke the nuclear option over the Gorsuch nomination ranks as one of the dumbest moves of his political career. And just recently he "boldly" and "bravely" embraced a single-payer healthcare bill, saying Democrats were "too namby pamby" when they passed the Affordable Care Act.

Really, Chuck? I seem to recall you blasted then President Obama and the Democrats for spending too much time on healthcare reform in the first place. But that was way back in 2014, after the midterm elections gave the GOP the majority in the Senate. Now, after yet another shellacking - this one in the general - you have apparently changed your tune - AGAIN! Now you're firmly on board the Bernie bus.

But as predictable and shallow as Schumer can be at times, he does have his rare moments when reality and honesty converge and the obvious is given voice. So, for the record, let me just say to the senior senator from New York: Bravo, sir, well done. I couldn't have said it better myself. Actually, I have - several times. But then I'm not you; I'm just some schlep with a laptop with way too much time on his hands.

It may rub Hillary supporters the wrong way, but what Chuck Schumer said had to be said. In fact, it was long overdue. And as minority leader of the Senate, the responsibility fell to him to be the bearer of bad news.

For the umpteenth time, Democrats need to let go of last year's presidential election. Trump won. It disgusts me to admit it, but being disgusted isn't going to change the outcome; nor is dredging up irrelevant statistics like her popular vote margin, the majority of which came from a state that hasn't gone red since Reagan. Yes, Comey and Russia were factors, but we still don't know to what extent, and it is doubtful we ever will.

What we do know is this: Democrats got their butts handed to them in the Rust Belt region. Clinton may have lost Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by a combined 82 thousand votes, but she lost Ohio by almost half a million. You can't chalk all that up to Comey and Vladimir Putin. The unwillingness of the Party to take a long, hard look in the mirror is what is most troubling here. Rather than own their shortcomings, many Democrats seem determined to double down on the same failed strategy that led to their butt whoopin'.

Give Schumer this much: his political instincts are firmly intact. A recent ABC News poll showing only 37 percent of voters believe that Democrats stand for something has gotten under his skin big time. He's already seen the Titanic sink; he's doing everything possible to keep the Lusitania from being torpedoed, even if it means incurring the wrath of millions of Hillary supporters.

And I, for one, applaud his courage, even if it is calculated. Democrats have never been this unpopular, or small in numbers. Forget gerrymandering for a minute. Regionally speaking, they are an isolated party with little appeal outside of the major urban areas. Subtract California and New York and Trump wins the popular vote hands down. If they really believe that dragging a few more African Americans and Hispanics to the polls will change their fortunes, they are seriously delusional.

Take a cold, hard look at Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Then subtract the cities of Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, and what you have left is a giant sea of red with a few small blue islands sprinkled in. Face it, it wasn't the base that sank Clinton, it was the rest of the fucking country.

Chuck Schumer knows this, and I suspect a good percentage of the leadership of the Democratic Party knows it as well. Now the only thing they have to decide is what they are going to do about it. Schumer, for his part, has already laid down the gauntlet. It's up to the rest of us to pick it up and run with it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Great Republican Half Truth About Obamacare

Over the last seven years, Republicans have said a lot of things about the Affordable Care Act that have been proven to be false (e.g., death panels, socialized takeover of the healthcare industry). But for the last eighteen months they've made one claim that has, unfortunately for proponents of the ACA, been hard to refute, and that is that the law itself is in danger of imminent collapse.

To support their claim they point to the exodus of insurance providers out of certain markets which has resulted in huge premium spikes to the tune of 30 percent or more. Consumers in these markets have, in many instances, only one insurance provider to turn to, forcing them to pay the fine rather than the exorbitant premiums. And this has led to insurance companies across the country having to raise their rates to offset the losses in these markets. Hence, a death spiral as Republicans are calling it.

But what Republicans are conveniently leaving out is that they themselves are the ones responsible for this spiral. Back in December of 2015, the Republican-controlled Senate managed to divert billions of dollars meant to cover potential losses the insurance companies might suffer away from them and back into the coffers of the treasury. This set into motion a cascade effect that has brought about the situation we now face.

piece in Salon magazine from last March explained in great detail, step by step, what the Republicans were up to what happened as a result.
When the ACA was rolled out, telling insurance companies that they had to insure anybody who signed up, regardless of previous conditions or sickness, everybody realized that the insurance companies would probably lose money in the first decade or so, until previously-uninsured-but-sick people got into the system, got better, and things evened out. 
To get the insurance companies to go along with this danger of losing money, the ACA promised to make them whole for any losses in any of the first decade’s years. At the end of each fiscal year, the insurance companies merely had to document their losses, and the government would reimburse them out of ACA funds provided for by the law.
The possibility of their losing money was referred to as the “risk corridor,” and the ACA explicitly filled those risk corridors with a guarantee of making the insurance companies, at the very least, whole.

Marco Rubio and a number of other Republicans had succeeded in gutting the risk corridors. The result was that, just in 2015, end-of-fiscal-year risk corridor payments to insurance companies that were supposed to total around $2.9 billion were only reimbursed, according to Rubio himself quoted in the Times, to the tune of around $400 million. Rubio bragged that he’d “saved taxpayers $2.5 billion.”

So the insurance companies did the only things they could. In (mostly red) states with low incomes and thus poorer health, they simply pulled out of the marketplace altogether. This has left some states with only one single insurer left. In others, they jacked up their prices to make up their losses.

A federal claims court recently ordered that the payments be restored. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done. Smaller providers went out of business and the larger ones simply pulled out. Assuming the order survives an appeal, those markets that had been decimated are likely to remain that way and millions of people will suffer needlessly.

So, yes, the law is probably unsustainable in its current form, and barring a legislative fix its long-term prospects are dubious at best. But Republicans gloating over the dire straits of this law are akin to a person standing over someone bleeding to death from a shotgun wound they themselves caused and then speculating how long it will take before the victim dies.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Looming Constitutional Crisis

It is now all but certain that Donald Trump will attempt to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The only questions that remain are how and when. Six months into this travesty of an administration and what we have is a West Wing in disarray, cabinet members who are in over their heads and a chief executive who thinks he's still hosting Celebrity Apprentice. America, this is your reality TV show from hell.

Oh I know there are those who insist that Trump would never fire Mueller because of the political consequences. All of these people seem to have forgotten that after he fired Comey, Trump suffered hardly any political fallout. Yes, the firing prompted Mueller's hiring in the first place, but apart from that, Trump escaped without so much as a scratch. Besides, a man who has no regard for the rule of law and who has proven time and again throughout his life that he can't be shamed, certainly isn't going to concern himself with optics, especially not with the entire GOP afraid of challenging him.

But if Trump fired Mueller wouldn't that be the final straw? Certainly enough Republicans would turn on him to force him from office if he took that drastic a step, right? Perhaps, but from what I've seen, it is highly unlikely that the House would vote to impeach and, assuming it did, even more unlikely that 19 Republicans would join with 48 Democrats to vote to convict in the Senate. Face it, if you're looking for a Nixon-like moment, don't hold your breath. For all his faults, Nixon at least had a soul.

So how will Il Duce pull the plug? First, it's important to keep in mind that Jeff Sessions' refusal to resign after he was publicly humiliated by Trump in that New York Times interview has complicated things a bit. What Trump was hoping for was that Sessions would have enough pride to quit so he could appoint a replacement that would immediately take over the Russia investigation. A new attorney general might be able to either rein in Mueller or, if that didn't work, fire him, thus eliminating the need for Trump to do it himself. First rule of a dictator: never get the blood on your own hands.

With Sessions still on the job - but also recused from any involvement in the investigation - Trump would have to direct his assistant Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. That would be problematic not in the least because it was Rosenstein who hired Mueller in the first place. He would have little if any cause to dismiss him. So Rosenstein would either have to resign or be fired. I'm guessing it's the former.

Trump would then have to find his own Robert Bork of sorts: someone with no spine and even less ethics who would carry out the deed. Sadly, that shouldn't be too hard. Most of the career lawyers at the Department of Justice - like Sally Yates and Preet Bharara - have already been fired. The truth is that of all the pledges Trump and his henchmen have made since taking office, the one they've delivered on is the dismantling of the administrative state. From the DOJ to the State Department to the EPA, hundreds of job vacancies have yet to be filled. This wasn't an accident; it was done on purpose. And it makes perfect sense. The fewer potential opponents you have, the easier it is to pull off a Coup. As I wrote in an earlier piece, "Not all Democracies die by the sword, some die from a fountain pen."

So when does all this happen? We can assume that Mueller either already has Trump's tax returns or is about to lay his hands on them. Any halfway decent investigator would've followed the trail of bread crumbs this president has been carelessly dropping. We can also assume that Trump and his lawyers know this full well. That's why they're now challenging his integrity as a prosecutor, despite the fact that Trump was considering him for the FBI position before Rosenstein appointed him as special counselor. It's also why Trump went off the way he did to the Times. He may have all the impulse control of a four-year old, but he's not nuts. In fact, everything he's done since assuming office has had its own sort of convoluted logic behind it.

Based on all the information we have, I'd say he makes his move within the next few days, perhaps as early as Monday. In fact, the longer he waits, the more he runs the risk that Mueller might get enough dirt on him to survive even his firing. Let's not forget there are two Congressional hearings going on. The last thing Trump wants to see is Robert Mueller testifying before the world that the Kremlin owns his ass.

But Mueller's firing won't be the event that brings about a Constitutional crisis. That happens afterwards when Trump issues pardons for himself and his entire family. Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort? They can twist in the wind for all he cares. In Trumpworld, family comes first, second and third. There is no such thing as loyalty from the top down, only from the bottom up. Just ask Jeff Sessions, the most loyal man in Trump's entire cabinet.

What would happen next is anybody's guess. Constitutional scholars are divided as to whether Trump has the authority to pardon himself. I submit that they - and we - are all about to find out.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Did Trump Inadvertently Admit To Money Laundering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Obamacare Gets A Stay of Execution . . . For Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Memo To Media: Don't Let Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

For the Last Time Media, Pull the Plug On Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trump's Dangerously Effective Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Trump's Moment of Truth Has Arrived

The moment the United States and the free world has been dreading has finally arrived. North Korea now has the ability to launch an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear warhead that could destroy an American city and kill millions of people. This Tuesday, July 4, it fired off a missile, named Hwasong-14, that flew for roughly 37 minutes, traveled approximately 580 miles and reached an altitude of over 1700 miles before it fell into the Sea of Japan.

David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists believes this missile - a two-stage ICBM - could have a "maximum range of roughly 6,700 km (4,160 miles) on a standard trajectory," not long enough to reach the continental United States, but definitely long enough to reach Alaska. Experts agree it is only a matter of time before North Korea develops a missile that can strike cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

To say this is a game changer would be the understatement of the century. The unthinkable has happened. The most unpredictable psychopath in the world not only has access to nuclear weapons, he now has the delivery mechanism needed to threaten the United States with them. What was once a regional problem has now become a global one. And there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

Think about it. If negotiating with Pyongyang, as the Obama Administration attempted to do for eight years, didn't work, then threatening them with a preemptive attack isn't likely to be anymore effective. In fact, it's likely to precipitate the very outcome only a fool would want: an all out nuclear exchange. Bye, bye Seoul, Tokyo and Anchorage. As I wrote in an earlier piece, playing chicken with someone like Kim Jong un is like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun.

So where do we go from here? Well, for starters, now would really be a good time for someone - anyone - in the Trump Administration to hide Trump's phone or at least suspend his Twitter account. Every time this president types out a provocative tweet about Kim, it may play well with the Neocons who thought the Iraq War would be a stroll in the park, but all it really does is antagonize Kim further. In fact, the more attention this maniac gets - for good or ill - the more it feeds his super-sized ego. Kinda reminds you of someone, doesn't it?

The next thing that can be done is to beef up the current missile defense system, called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD for short. At present, there is only one battery installed in the entire country and it is 135 miles south of the South Korean capital, which means it wouldn't be able to intercept a missile headed for that city since its range is only 125 miles. In order to be a real deterrent, there would have to be multiple batteries set up throughout the country. And if China barks, tell them to go fly a kite. Kim got the technology to build his ICBMs directly from Beijing. That makes them complicit in all this.

And while we're at it, it's way past time for the Trump Administration to appoint an actual ambassador to South Korea. Almost six months into his tenure in office and shit-for-brains still hasn't gotten around to nominating one. I'm sure he'll get to it. After all, he's appointed one to the Bahamas. He's probably just going in alphabetical order.

But apart from that, we appear to be in a no-win situation. Kim has his nukes, he has his missiles, and he's not going to give either of them up. The U.S. can huff and puff all it wants. The fact is we're not going to invade, not unless we want to see Seoul reduced to ashes. And a military strike to try to take out Kim's stockpile won't be successful since most it is scattered throughout the mountainous regions of the country. And I'm quite certain that any attack by the United States on North Korea will not be well received by either China or Russia, both of whom have a considerable nuclear arsenal of their own.

Face it, this day was coming ever since July 27, 1953. That was the date hostilities between North and South Korea stopped. But the War itself never really came to an end. It's been going on for six decades. While the South prospered under the capitalism of the West, the North became more and more isolated, shunned by the world, and buttressed by China. The situation isn't all that different from Cuba. Fidel Castro could've been an alley of the West, but instead he was driven into the Soviet Union's spear of influence. The country has been an outcast ever since.

Of course the main difference between the two countries is that one is broke and powerless; the other a nuclear power and a threat to world peace. If we somehow manage to avoid a direct confrontation with the latter, we might take a moment to reflect on just how our preconceived notions about a nation's ideology can have potentially devastating consequences, not just for us but for the whole planet.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Why Democrats Lose Elections

Retired University of California at Berkeley professor George Lakoff has a theory about why Democrats lose elections and it comes down to messaging. Actually, it's more than just a theory; turns out Lakoff was one of the few people who predicted Donald Trump would win the 2016 election. Note, he didn't just say Trump could win, he said he would win. And to make matters worse, he tried to warn the Clinton campaign, but to no avail.

According to Lakoff, the way people form their opinions is through values rather than specific issues. This might explain why so many people vote against their own self-interests. Conservatives understand this much better than liberals and they tailor their message accordingly. They craft "political appeals by way of the appropriate value statements for their audience." Put another way, Republicans tend to rely on marketing data to shape their message while Democrats tend to rely on statistical analysis.

As a salesman, I can attest to this. It's called benefit selling. Successful salespeople never discuss the features or statistics of a particular product when talking to a prospective customer. Instead, they talk about the benefits of it, e.g., this car will save you money and give you years of worry-free ownership, vs. this car gets 35 miles to the gallon and is top rated in its class. The latter may be more accurate, but the former is what motivates consumers to purchase.

The fact is feature selling requires a more nuanced approach to selling that is more difficult to get across and, more often than not, tends to confuse the customer instead of enlightening them, thus leading to what we call in the business a walk. In contrast, those who stick to benefit selling have a much higher close ratio.

I've been watching the way Republicans and Democrats talk to voters for years and I'm convinced of two things: one, Lakoff is on to something here; and two, Democrats are determined to ignore what he has to say. In fact, if the Clinton campaign was any indication, they seem hell bent at going full speed ahead into a brick wall.

I've said this before and it bears repeating: when it comes to framing a message to the electorate, Democrats can turn a sentence into a novel. John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004 comes to mind. Watching Kerry's performance during the debates that year was like being forced to sit through one of your old college professor's lectures on geology. Informative, yes, but about as entertaining as watching paint dry.

Republicans, on the other hand, are experts at keeping their message simple. Witness the debate over the Affordable Care Act back in '09. Terms like death panels, socialized medicine, ramming it through were repeated so often by the GOP they became part of the political lexicon. While Democrats relied on things like "statistics" and "facts" to try and make their case as to why healthcare reform was necessary, Republicans employed scare tactics that were short and concise and hit a nerve among voters. The tactic was so successful that it was the prime reason behind the 2010 midterm wave election that saw the GOP take the House and pick up eight seats in the Senate.

The recent special election loss in the Georgia 6th was yet another example of Democrats getting schooled in messaging. Democrats relied heavily on anti-Trump sentiment to carry them across the finish line, but it was Republicans who had the best rebut. They trotted out the name of Nancy Pelosi in a district that was already heavily conservative and an early 8 point lead for Jon Ossoff turned into a 2 point loss on election day. The lesson could not have been more clear: Trump may be unpopular, but Pelosi is toxic. The GOP knew that; the Dems didn't.

There's also another lesson here. And that is that the truth, sadly, is in the eye of the beholder. Having the facts on your side doesn't count for much if you can't make a convincing argument for them. With a few notable exceptions - '06 and '08 - Democrats have not presented a compelling argument for why they should be elected; hence they've lost the majority of the elections they've run in since Obama first won the presidency.

The reason for this is that the Party, as a whole, doesn't seem to have a coherent message to run on. Ask the typical Democrat what he or she stands for and their answer will usually begin and end with stopping Trump. It's an answer that may score them points with their base, but does little to expand that base into a winning coalition.

This ineptitude is frustrating and particularly befuddling given that the country, as a whole, has been moving to the left for years. Measures to raise the minimum wage and legalize pot have passed in several states and a majority of Americans now approve of same sex marriage. This would've been unthinkable only a decade ago. A competent Democratic Party would not only have championed these causes, they would've parlayed them into a popular movement so immense it would've resulted in staggering majorities both at the federal and state levels.

But instead, the Party abandoned its core message, took much of its constituency for granted and through their arrogance gave Republicans a foothold with which to build their own majority. And build it they did in both the 2010 and 2014 midterms. At the state level, the GOP redrew district lines that have made it virtually impossible for Democrats to retake the House.

Trump, opportunist that he is, also pounced on the opening that was created by the Democrats, particularly in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where he eked out a narrow margin of victory to give him the Electoral College last November. That Trump won the presidency in those states by a mere 82 thousand votes only added insult to the self-inflected injury.

Bruce Bartlett, the self-professed former Republican, had the best take on the current malady that besets the Democratic Party.
The Party doesn’t really seem to stand for anything other than opposition to the GOP. Admittedly, just about everything the Republicans are doing deserves to be opposed. But the Democrats also need a positive agenda of their own. I remember thinking late in the 2016 campaign that I could not name a single policy proposal Hillary Clinton had put forward. I knew they existed — 10 point plans to fix various problems that were probably well thought through, but all of the points were small-bore and impossible to summarize easily. You had to go to her website and dig them out because they never appeared in any of her commercials or interviews. 
As much as I hate what the conservative movement has become, it rose to power through some strategies that are easily duplicable by progressives. One is putting as much effort into marketing ideas as originating them. Another is coordinating efforts among disparate groups on the right — you support my cause and in return I’ll support yours. And all these efforts are continuously repeated throughout the right-wing echo chamber.

Regarding Bartlett's last point - you support my cause and in return I'll support yours - there's no evidence that Democrats have either the appetite or skill set to do that. Case in point is the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been unable to cobble together the necessary 50 votes to pass the bill. The hold up is a few moderate Republicans who will not support any bill that phases out Medicaid funding to their states.

But while McConnell continues to tweak the bill in order to get his moderates on board, there has not been one outreach from Democratic leadership to come up with a bi-partisan plan that would appeal to centrists from both parties. Nada. The "plan" from Chuck Schumer and company appears to be wait for Republicans to fail again, and in the event that they don't, blame them next fall for taking away healthcare from millions of people.

Joe Manchin, who's up for reelection next year, recently said he'd be willing to work with Trump on a healthcare bill. So why hasn't he contacted Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski or Rob Portman to come up with a bi-partisan bill? The same goes for Claire McCaskill, another Democratic senator who's running for reelection next year. Where's the attempt to reach out to moderate Republicans on healthcare?

Or, for that matter, tax reform. Eric Levitz has a piece in the Daily Intelligencer that calls on Democrats to propose their own middle-class tax cut bill. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that bill to come any time soon, either. I could go up and down the line and the results would be the same. 48 senators who seem quite content to stand on the deck of the RMS Titanic and let the waters close in over them.

The lack of leadership within the Democratic Party is staggering. And they wonder why they don't win elections. Think about it: they threw twenty-five million dollars into a congressional race and still lost, proving, as Bartlett adroitly observed, that the issue isn't a "lack of funds"; it's a lack of vision.

One thing is certain: if Democrats don't pull their heads out of their asses soon, they can look forward to seeing Donald Trump in the White House for the next seven and a half years. They can also look forward to the very real prospect of facing their own political oblivion as a party.