Thursday, August 31, 2017

Robert Mueller's August Surprise


In a stunning development, investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have joined forces with those of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the Paul Manafort probe. The announcement comes just days after Donald Trump's pardoning of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, and, unless you believe in coincidences, the intent could not be clearer: state convictions, unlike federal ones, are not subject to presidential pardons.

It's well known that Schneiderman has been investigating Manafort's real estate holdings for some time, and the joint effort with Mueller will give investigators on both teams that much more leverage to flip the former Trump campaign manager. And once they have Manafort, the dominos will start to fall.

There is, of course, another, even better, reason for Mueller and Schneiderman to join forces: to delver a message loud and clear to Trump himself. Anybody he pardons will not only be subject to criminal prosecution at the state level, but will lose the ability to plead the Fifth Amendment, meaning they will have to tell the truth under oath. He can pardon the universe if he wants, but he cannot prevent the truth from coming out.

You have to wonder whether Mueller would've resorted to such drastic measures had Trump not issued the Arpaio pardon. You also have to wonder whether this joint venture was made to ensure that in the event he was fired by Trump, Mueller's findings would wind up in friendlier hands. My guess is we'll never know.

What we do know is this: Schneiderman is no fan of this president. Remember it was his lawsuit that forced Trump to shell out 25 million dollars as part of a settlement for his scam university. Now with Mueller's investigators at his disposal, there's no telling what he might uncover; and, just to reiterate: there isn't a damn thing Trump can do to stop him.

As if that news wasn't good enough, both The Hill and The Daily Beast are reporting that Mueller is now working with the IRS's Criminal Investigations unit. This means that Mueller almost certainly has Trump's tax returns and has strong reason to believe that there's something rotten in Denmark.

According to retired IRS agent Martin Sheil, "The FBI’s expertise is spread out over so many statutes—and particularly since 9/11, where they really focused on counterintelligence and counter-terror—that they simply don’t have the financial investigative expertise that the CI agents have. When CI brings a case to a U.S. Attorney, it is done. It’s wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow. It’s just comprehensive."

A ribbon and a bow, heh? Gee, that would be a nice present to give a weary and torn nation, and just in time for the holidays; or, for all you evangelicals who sold your souls last November, if you prefer: Holy days.

Either works for me, ribbon or no ribbon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Incendiary


The Huffington Post's headline read, "American Psycho." It was, by far, the most accurate take on what happened in Phoenix, Arizona last night. But what we witnessed was a lot more than just a psychotic rant; it was nothing short of a complete meltdown. A sitting president stood up, not just in front of his frenzied base, but before an entire nation and proceeded to dissolve in front of our very eyes. If there were any doubts about the stability of this man before last night, they have all been removed.

Just when you thought he couldn't sink any lower than his depraved response to what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, this president shamelessly one-up'd himself. So much for John Kelly's influence, or Steve Bannon's departure, for that matter. Captain Queeg was a one-man wrecking crew on that stage.

Consider that in just 77 minutes he managed to savagely attack both Republican senators from Arizona, as well as the majority leader of the Senate; he continued his assault on the media - his favorite target, it seems - even going so far as to falsely claim that they were pulling the live stream of his speech; he doubled down on his comments on Charlottesville, conveniently omitting the infamous "many sides" part; he practically French-kissed Fox News's Sean Hannity and Fox and Friends; he teased the crowd that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, though he added he wouldn't do it now because it would be too "controversial;" threatened to shut down the government if he didn't get the funding for his wall; and, lastly, I swear I'm not making this up, he bragged that his apartment was "bigger and more beautiful" than the ones the fake journalists who were covering him were living in.

You not only couldn't make this shit up, you wouldn't even try. No rational person could concoct a scenario in which the President of the United States was so unhinged that even a satirist would insist you were putting him on. Seriously, when you read a story about Trump in The Onion and think to yourself, didn't I read this in The New York Times? it's time to pack your bags and head for the hills. We have now entered into a new dimension where satire and reality are one in the same, and a fractured country hangs in the balance.

And that is precisely what this man wants. Howard Fineman summed it up best when he wrote,
Donald Trump seems perfectly willing to destroy the country to maintain his own power. He is racing to undermine the federal political system — if not all American public life — before still-independent forces (for now, the federal courts, the press and Congress) undermine him.

The goal, as always with Trump, is to win amid the chaos he sows, to be the last man standing in rubble. And “winning” is rapidly being reduced to the raw, basic terms he prefers: brute survival. With a record-setting low approval rating, world crises everywhere and a special counsel on his tail, the main victory he can hope for is staying in office.

It’s not only an emotional imperative for Trump, it’s a deliberate ― and thus far successful ― strategy.
When you think about it, it all begins to make sense. Trump doesn't win the 2016 election without dividing the country. He incendiary rhetoric - as reprehensible as it was and still is - has a perverse logic behind it. And it was specifically targeted towards those groups that were the most susceptible to it: the disenfranchised, the bitter and the despondent. They were the ones who came to his rallies chanting "lock her up" and "build that wall." Trump played them like a violin and they carried him across the threshold.

Yes, some of the attendees at his rallies were racists or had racist tendencies, but not all of them. In fact, most were just people who were angry and without hope. Trump, with the skill of a surgeon, directed that anger outward instead of inward and gave them something they could hang their hats on. When no one else would listen to them, Trump gave them a platform and a cause.

And so he continues to pander to the same people who put him in the White House, knowing full well that he does not have the support of the majority of the electorate. He could care less. He got elected with only 46 percent of the popular vote, so why would he bother to concern himself with polls. He beat every Republican that took him on; he beat the ultimate establishment candidate in Hillary Clinton; and despite the whirlwind that continues to surround his administration, he's still the president.

He has no plans for governing. Indeed, governing was never part of his agenda. His sole aim is to divide and conquer the nation, first by undermining its institutions, then by taking them over one by one. We've already seen evidence of this at both the Justice and State Departments. His voter fraud commission is a blatant attempt to suppress Democratic turnout in 2020.

He is doing what all despots do: destroying the ability of the system to challenge him. It is as brilliant as it is sinister. And if he isn't stopped soon, either by Robert Mueller or by Senate Republicans, it will be too late to put out the fire.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Don't Be Distracted By Bannon's Firing


The news that Steve Bannon has been fired by Donald Trump is being heralded by pundits and the media as a major turning point for a White House that has been in a constant state of chaos since January 20. Bannon's alt-right influence, we're told, was a cancer on the presidency and was undermining what little chance Trump has of being an effective leader. With him out of the way, some semblance of order will be restored and the administration can get on with passing its agenda.

Forgive me while I choke on my bile, but I seem to recall the same sentiment being expressed when people like Mike Flynn, Sean Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci were shown the door. All three were distractions that had to go. The hiring of John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff, they say, all but sealed Bannon's fate. The theory goes that Kelly wanted him out so out he went.

Not to throw cold water on the pundits and the media, but what's the big deal here? Yes, Bannon was a cancer on the presidency, but no more or less than some of the other characters in Trump's cabinet. Let's not forget that, as of now, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka are still gainfully employed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They might not have the resume of a Steve Bannon, but they are every bit as loathsome.

Miller, you'll recall, was the runt who went on all the cable news shows and said that Trump's decisions would not be challenged, even after the Muslim ban was stayed by a federal district court. And Gorka has been doing his best impersonation of Dr. Strangelove over the whole North Korean crisis. If both these men had their way, everyone who disagreed with Trump's policies would either be locked up or dead from nuclear fallout.

It's also important to remember that while it's true that Bannon played a role in helping Trump get elected, by no means was it a major one. Let's not forget that long before Bannon joined the campaign, Trump was spewing his hateful rhetoric all over the electorate. The "Mexicans are rapists" slur came almost a year before he was hired. His departure hardly means that Trump will turn into Mahatma Gandhi.

No, Bannon's real contribution was not what he brought directly to the campaign, but rather what his presence meant to the alt-right movement. With Bannon on board, they knew they had a sympathetic ear should Trump get elected, so they turned out in record numbers to see to it that he won.

But like most relationships born in hell, there can only be one Lucifer. And with Trump's super-sized ego, that meant Bannon's days were numbered. The real question isn't how the administration will act now that Mini-Me is gone - really, we're talking about this White House, remember? - but rather what will Bannon do now that he's back at Breitbart. Trump's ego may be the size of the Grand Canyon, but people like Bannon have had a hard on for the establishment their whole adult lives. If Trump thought he was getting rid of a headache by jettisoning Bannon, I've got some bad news for him. He's about to get a "bigly" migraine. I can just see it now: Trump getting attacked by the left, the center and the alt-right. Ain't life grand? I mean, what's a megalomaniac to do these days?

Meanwhile, the white nationalists, or supremacists, or whatever the fuck you want to call these scum bags continue to hold their "freedom" rallies. The latest one was in Boston. Thankfully, the usual number of stormtroopers that showed up this time was down significantly from the number that showed up in Charlottesville last week and the number of people who showed up as counter protestors this time was significantly greater. I'm guessing the white pussies called it a day when they saw how badly they were outnumbered.

Which I guess is proof positive love "trumps" hate after all. Boy, Bannon really has his work cut out for him.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Letter To Christians Who Voted for Trump


Look, I understand why frustrated blue-collar workers in the Rust-Belt states voted for Trump. When you've been screwed over by both major political parties as much as they have, you tend to do irrational things like vote for someone who has about as much in common with you as you would with a sheep dog.

And I certainly get why racists voted for him. His shameful response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia is only the latest in a long line of examples of this president's pandering to the most vile and depraved elements in our society that began with him referring to Mexicans as rapists. When David Duke is praising you, you haven't just lost the moral high ground, you've thoroughly disgraced the office.

And to a certain extent, I even get the whole "let's blow everything up and see what happens" mindset that drove many voters to pull the lever for Trump. No doubt many of them are beginning to discover that blowing things up can have unforeseen consequences. Maybe next time, they'll think twice before going down that rabbit hole. Or maybe they'll just stay home and pull another kind of lever. And yes, I meant that the way it sounded.

But what I really don't understand - and have never been able to wrap my head around - is how anyone who calls him or herself a Christian could seriously vote for Trump. Now, before I go any further, I want to distinguish between people like Ralph Reed, Pat Robinson and their ilk and the millions of Christians who go to church every Sunday and profess their devotion to Christ. If your primary source of income is peddling your faith for political gain, you're not a Christian, you're a whore.

Look, I know some of you. And trust me, I get it. You're conservatives - most of you that is - and you've voted Republican your entire lives. From Reagan to Bush 43, you've faithfully gone to the mat for the GOP. And I think I know why, or at least I hope I do. You deplore the Roe v. Wade decision and have made it your life's mission to do whatever you can to try and get it reversed. And the best way to do that is through the Supreme Court; hence, the conservative voting record. Who knows, maybe if enough Democratic politicians hadn't so flippantly dismissed your concerns, we wouldn't be in the pickle we're in now. But that's a topic for a long overdue letter to the Democratic Party that I haven't as of yet written. Don't worry, I'll get around to them. I usually do.

But here's my question to all of you who pulled the lever for Trump. Was Neil Gorsuch really worth your soul? I'm quite serious here. Was he? Because if you really believe that you can rationalize the conduct of this president by saying, as Reed did on Bill Maher's Real Time show, that at least Trump kept his word on his Supreme Court pick, than I truly feel sorry for you. You have betrayed the very faith you swore to uphold. You are no better than Peter, who denied Jesus three times and just as bad as Judas, who sold him out for a few pieces of silver.

And please spare me with the typical "Hillary was the greater evil" bullshit. She was flawed, no doubt about it, and she ran one of the most inept campaigns in modern history, but she was nowhere near as deplorable as Trump, and deep down you know it. Apart from her stances on abortion and gay rights, she was about as mainstream as they come for a Democrat. That's why the Left never accepted her. She wasn't one of them, and they knew it. They loved Bernie; they despised her. How could you not see that?

Maybe you did, but you just didn't care. All you cared about was that damned Supreme Court pick. If only Antonin Scalia hadn't died, perhaps you might've voted differently. By all means, convince yourselves of that, if it allows you to sleep better at night, which it most assuredly should not. You don't get a mulligan on this one. Jesus may forgive you, but the country won't, nor should it. And so long as we're talking about abortion, answer me this: if this maniac starts World War III, how many millions of babies do you suppose will die needlessly, along with their parents? Your righteous indignation rings as hollow as one of Trump's foreign-made "Make America Great" caps.

As Christians, we are called to walk a different path from nonbelievers, and we are accountable for our actions when they reflect negatively upon the Church. Our savior does not say be kind to others, except when it is politically expedient not to. Indeed, we are commanded to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. You may fool yourselves, but you cannot fool God. He sees your heart. John Pavlovitz summed it up best:
You knew exactly who this man [Trump] was while you held your noses and covered your eyes and you endorsed him anyway. You are fully responsible for the flood of personal sewage now engulfing children and adults of color, those in the LGBTQ community, those in the Muslim community, members of the Jewish community.
You chose the guy whose entire resume is built on supremacy and privilege and bigotry, whose entire campaign was about manufacturing and leveraging fear of the other (the other in this case, being anyone not white, straight, and Christian).
Pavlovitz left out "male" in that last paragraph, though I suppose that's to be expected. Even within the more progressives strands of Christianity, there is a streak of chauvinism that is as old as the Church itself. For my part, the Access Hollywood tape was as offensive as anything Trump has said or done over the last two years. But apart from that omission, he nailed it.

I have butted heads with Christians from time to time over the years on a wide range of topics from healthcare to taxing the wealthy. And while I strongly disagreed with the notion that Jesus was, somehow, a pull yourself up by your own bootstraps kinda guy, I nevertheless shrugged my shoulders and moved on. No sense arguing with people who are convinced that somewhere in the Bible there's a verse that actually reads: "God helps those who help themselves." Spoiler alert, there isn't.

But I cannot and will not simply "shrug" my shoulders regarding this man and the people within my faith who helped put him in the White House. There are some axes you can't grind enough. I am both infuriated at and deeply embarrassed for anyone who calls the Christian faith their own who looked at this man and concluded he passes the smell test.

Let's leave the Supreme Court out of it for the moment. Tell me, what was it about him that led you to think he was a God-fearing man? Was it the way he arrogantly boasted that he didn't need to confess his sins because he hadn't made any mistakes? Or was it when he said his favorite Bible passage was Two Corinthians? Two Corinthians?! My God, the man opened up a Bible, saw a "2" next to the word Corinthians and didn't even know that you're suppose to say Second Corinthians. Anyone who's spent more than a couple of months going to church would know that. Apart from getting married three times, I doubt he's ever set foot in one.

Or perhaps it was when he made fun of a disabled reporter at one of his rallies and, at another rally, said he'd like to punch someone in the face. Yes, that's it. I mean, who can forget that uplifting passage in Matthew 8, when Jesus mocks the man with leprosy, then punches one of his disciples in the face for wasting his time with such trash. Or how about in John 6, when Jesus is told there isn't enough food for all the people who showed up to hear him speak and he turns to his disciples and says, "Next time you mopes stick me with a mob like this, I'll feed YOU to the fishes." But my favorite passage of all time has got to be the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says "Blessed am I for putting up with you losers." It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

In all seriousness, though, are you not appalled at what this man has done and the way he has comported himself since being sworn in? Have you no shame? How do you live with yourselves knowing you helped get him elected? And how hard do you have to bite down and swallow trying to minimize the impact of the damage he is doing to the very country you have been swearing is a Christian nation ever since you were saved?

I've heard the lame excuses some of who have come up with to defend your vote. Excuses like, "Aren't we all imperfect?", and "This is a fallen world and we are not of it", and this doozy, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise." Really now! Then why couldn't He have done the same with Hillary? She was certainly foolish, and in your own words, just as bad as Trump. Could she not have been an instrument through which His will could've been fulfilled?

Yes, but then Hillary wouldn't have nominated Gorsuch. And without Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, I guess God would be powerless, just like he was when Moses took it upon himself to murder an Egyptian guard and was exiled to the desert for forty years. Funny, but for people who supposedly believe in an omnipotent God who is the creator of the universe, it's astonishing how little faith you actually have in Him when it comes to its welfare. He might as well be the janitor at a high school for all the credit He gets.

Face it, you blew it. Deep down where you live, you know you made a deal with the devil and you just can't bring yourselves to admit it. You hear what comes out of Trump's mouth on TV and you spy the room to make sure your kids aren't there listening to it. I'll bet your paycheck - and mine too - that on more than one occasion you've had to take them aside and explain to them that this is not the way Christians are supposed to behave. And I'll bet their college tuition that you saw the look of bewilderment in their eyes and your heart sank into the pit of your stomach, because in that instant you were convicted. Even in your denial there is still that intuitive sense of right and wrong that comes directly from God and which can never be torn from us. It is both a gift and a curse.

Me? I'm fine with my decision. Last November, I voted for the candidate, warts and all, who was the best choice to lead this nation; the candidate who wasn't a misogynist, a racist, an anti-semite, a xenophobe, a demigod, who didn't have the temperament of a four-year old and who had the capacity to grasp the enormous weight and honor of the office she was running for. Policies aside, I have seen nothing over the last seven months that has made me regret that vote. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Would you? Seriously, with everything that has gone down since he was sworn in, would you still vote for him? If the answer is no, then say so, loud and clear. They say confession is good for the soul; this would be as good a time as any to put that theory to the test. You cannot undo what you have done, but you can certainly atone for it. Assuming Trump is not impeached, he will most assuredly run for reelection in 2020. You will get your chance at redemption then.

But if your answer is yes, you would vote for him again, I honestly don't know what I can say to you that I haven't already said. Your logic has all the recklessness of a drunk driver, who after learning he had just totaled his car, celebrated by going out and getting drunk again. Only the good Lord knows how you sleep nights. But know this: it will not be your conscious that will ultimately condemn you; it will be God himself.

The words of Jesus from chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew are quite clear and inviolable. They should serve as a warning to any and all Christians who think they can rationalize their way into the kingdom of Heaven.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What Jennifer Rubin Still Doesn't Get About the 2016 Election


"Most Republicans in Congress would prefer a stable, very conservative president who once served in the House and governed a red state. All they have to do is get Trump out of there and the Pence presidency can begin. Well, sure, but how is that going to happen?"

Ever since last November, I've written at great length about the unwillingness of Democrats and liberals to accept the election results. Their fixation on a meaningless popular vote count and James Comey's October surprise, along with the typical finger-pointing that always accompanies such an epic defeat, is proof positive that the party still has no idea what really happened and, more to the point, is ill prepared to keep it from happening again in 2020.

Well, it's somewhat comforting that liberals and Democrats aren't the only ones who either haven't gotten the memo on the 2016 election, or if they did, have refused to read it. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, is a conservative writer whose recent piece "They Could Have Pence as President, for Heaven's Sake" underscores just how deep the denial is on both sides of the political spectrum.

Let me just say straight up that I admire Rubin's courage, along with that of her fellow cohorts David Frum, David Brooks, Michael Gleason, Ross Douthat, and a handful of others I have read over the course of the last several months since il Duce assumed the title of dictator in waiting. And I can only imagine what they must be going through knowing that someone as repulsive as Trump not only won their party's nomination but the presidency as well. The ghosts of Lincoln and Reagan must be spinning in their graves.

But you see, here's what Rubin, et al don't quite get about the 2016 election. The voters did NOT elect a Republican for president. Yes, I understand, there was an R next to Trump's name. I clearly saw it on the ballot when I went to vote that day. And, yes, I'm painfully aware that Republicans retained their majorities in both Houses of Congress and still control two thirds of the state legislatures in the country.

But here's the thing: despite the most inept campaign in modern history, Democrats still netted six House seats and two Senate seats. And then there's Clinton's popular vote margin - I swear the only time you'll ever hear me tout this as a positive - along with a several state ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage and legalize pot. It's not an unreasonable argument to make that without gerrymandering, Dems might well have taken back the House in 2012 and solidified their hold in 2016.

Anyone who could objectively look at the political landscape of this country and say that it is conservative just isn't paying attention. I'm not saying it's liberal, mind you. There are clearly parts of the country where Bernie Sanders' message not only wouldn't have resonated with voters, it would've been soundly defeated, and I'm not just talking about the deep South or Plain states.

What happened last November had virtually nothing to do with either the Democrats or the Republicans, nor was it about liberal vs. conservative ideology. Had Trump run as a Romulan he would've won the election. What we witnessed was, quite simply, a populist wave, very similar to the one that led to the Brexit vote in Great Britain. It was an uprising of the working class against the elitists in both parties. And Trump not only rode that wave, he was primarily responsible for its cresting.

To suggest, as Rubin does, that a President Mike Pence would somehow be the answer to all the Republican's woes is to imagine a set of facts that is at odds with reality. Yes, Pence is more stable than Trump, I'll give Rubin that. But then Charles Cheswick would be more stable than Trump. But the simple truth is that Pence, despite his conservative bonafides, is a slightly more charming version of Ted Cruz. Had he gone up against Clinton she would've routed him.

In fact, the only Republican candidate, apart from Trump, that had any chance of beating Clinton last November was Ohio governor John Kasich. Take away Trump's populism and Kasich's centrism - or what passes for centrism in the GOP these days - and Hillary wins going away. Indeed, the fact that polls still show Trump beating her even with all the scandals that have rocked his administration should tell you that this populist movement is hardly a passing fancy. Why else do you think Republicans haven't gotten rid of him? It's not Trump they fear; it's his base.

But I'm not the only one who thinks this idea of a post-Trump Pence presidency is a fairy tale. Ronald Klain, also of The Washington Post, points out that "in the 213 years since the 12th Amendment created our system of joint presidential-vice-presidential tickets, no vice president has been elected to the highest office after serving with a president who declined to seek, or was defeated in seeking, a second elected term. And as for coming to office via the president’s ouster, the only vice president to follow that path, Gerald Ford, lost when he campaigned to retain the office — and he had far less to do with President Richard M. Nixon’s scandals than Pence does with the mess around Trump."

Put succinctly, Pence's fate is tied to Trump's. If Trump goes down, so does Pence. Whether he is forced out via impeachment (the odds are less than 50/50), resigns (highly unlikely), or decides not to run in 2020 (a distinct possibility), the odds of Pence winning a general election against what will hopefully be a much stronger Democratic nominee is remote at best. Consider that since the end of World War II, only once has a sitting vice president won the White House. And Mike Pence is NO George H.W. Bush.

Maybe Congressional Republicans, along with a majority of conservatives, would prefer a President Mike Pence, as Rubin suggested, but that sentiment is most assuredly not shared by the majority of the voters. Trump's ascendancy is a sign that the political institutions of this country have failed to do the jobs they were tasked to do. This breakdown did not happen overnight; it was decades in the making.

Until both major political parties get that, come up with a strategy to fix what's broken in Washington and develop a message that will resonate with the electorate, Trump, or perhaps someone even worse, will remain in power.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Even David Duke Knows Who and What You Are, Mr. President


Let me be as blunt as I can here, Mr. President. You are a coward. There, I said it. I could've chosen any noun or adjective to describe you: ignorant, stupid, incompetent, childish, conman, opportunist, fraud, sexist, racist, they all apply, especially the last one. But coward suits you best.

You can run, sir, but you cannot hide. Your tweets give you away. They reveal your true heart. You are as transparent as a wooden nickel. You have all the moral courage of Judas Iscariot, except that at least Judas had the good taste to kill himself. You would never be so selfless.

At your rallies last year - and even at some this year - you encouraged the kind of attack that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. Oh, maybe not in so many words, you're much too clever to do that. But the dog whistles you employed came through loud and clear.

In an interview on CNN last year you were asked to disavow David Duke and instead you replied that you didn't even know who he was. Really? You don't know who David Duke is? Well, Mr. President, he apparently knows who you are, and so do his supporters. They were the neo-Nazis and Klansmen who showed up and proudly proclaimed they were there to fulfill a promise you made to them during the campaign: that they would get their country back. They were there to collect, Mr. President.

Your response to the attack and the tragic murder of Heather Heyer and the dozen or more who were injured - some critically - at the hands of James Fields was depraved, even for you. First you had this to say from your golf club:

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides ― on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country -- not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America."

Then, after learning someone had been murdered, you tweeted this:

"Condolences to the family of the young woman killed today, and best regards to all of those injured, in Charlottesville, Virginia. So sad!"

Okay, two things: First off, best regards? Are you shitting me? Best regards? These people aren't contestants on one of your fucking reality TV shows. They were mowed down in cold blood by a white supremacist who took his cue from your hate-filled rhetoric. You might as well've paid for the gas in his car, you malevolent piece of trash.

Secondly, and most importantly, there aren't "many sides" here. There is only one side that is responsible for what happened, and what's more, you know it. That's why I'm calling you a coward. These scum bags didn't vote for Hillary Clinton, or Bernie, or Jill Stein or even Captain Video himself, Gary Johnson. They voted for you because you spoke their lingo. They see you as their one true deliverer; that's why they ventured out of the rabbit holes and caves they dwell in to pull the lever for you last November. You are their bitch. They know it and you know it. So stop pretending.

Jesus, man, your own wife responded before you did. What kind of president lets his first lady take the lead in such a moment? Maybe if the attack had occurred in Guam, you could've said something truly inspiring like, "I bet tourism goes through the roof as a result of this attack." Or maybe had it occurred on a golf course, we might've gotten a more empathetic response. After all, we all know you love to golf. Apart from tweeting demeaning and offensive comments, it's your favorite pastime. Of course, had the attacker been a Muslim, I'm sure you would've found the courage to condemn him. You did, after all, claim you saw thousands of them cheering and celebrating on 9/11.

You've attacked journalists, you've attacked world leaders - with the exception of Vladimir Putin [but then that's another story altogether, isn't it?], now you're going after Mitch McConnell, the one man in the Senate standing between you and a possible impeachment conviction. But when it comes to calling out white nationalists the best you can summon is this phony false equivalence bullshit.

Even Marco Rubio had the courage to call this what it was. Marco Rubio, for Christ's sake! The last time he took a stand on anything it was to put his name on an immigration bill, only to fold like a two-dollar bill once he caught flack for it from the Right. Time will tell if history repeats itself, but for now, he has you beat in the integrity department. Then again, most of humanity has you beat there.

You are a disgrace to the office and to this country. There is only one thing left for you to do, and it would be, by far, the bravest thing you've ever done quite possibly in your entire life: resign. But knowing you the way I think I do, I sincerely doubt it would ever come to pass. You're far too arrogant and vain to admit defeat. If you had been the captain of the Titanic you would've dragged everyone on board down with you. On second thought, you'd have saved your own sorry ass and left everyone else behind to drown.

But just in case you have a change of heart - assuming you have one - and some shred of decency manages to penetrate that skull of yours, you should be comforted in knowing that the following words would fit very nicely in a tweet:

I hereby resign the office of the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. 

Sincerely, Donald J. Trump.

I'll even send you a nice thank you along with a dozen roses to Ivanka.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid


As tensions continue to mount between the United States and North Korea, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a showdown is imminent. The only question that remains is who will throw the first punch? Based on the rhetoric that has come from Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, it's anybody's guess.

And now China has entered the picture - as if they were ever out of it in the first place - by announcing that if North Korea strikes first it will stay neutral, but if the U.S. or South Korea should launch a preemptive strike, it "will prevent them from doing so."

In case you were wondering what the word "prevent" means, google this: How many nukes does China have? The answer is approximately 260. Puny by international standards - for instance, the U.S. has about 4500 warheads - but considerably more than the 64 at Kim's disposal.

I have gone over ever possibly scenario in my head and none of them have ended well. It is clear that Kim is determined to provoke Trump by threatening to launch a missile towards Guam. At present, North Korea has the ability to strike the mainland of the U.S. with an ICBM. And as if that wasn't bad enough, they also appear to have the ability to attach a miniature warhead to an ICBM, meaning North Korea now has the capacity to start a nuclear war.

Trump, sadly, is taking Kim's bait and ratcheting it up several notches. From his resort at Berchtesgaden, President Shitenstein said the following: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States, or they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before."

He then followed that gem up with this tweet: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!"

And to calm the residents of Guam, he actually said this to its governor: "I have to tell you, you have become extremely famous all over the world. They are talking about Guam; and they’re talking about you. And when it comes to tourism, I can say this: You’re going to go up, like, tenfold with the expenditure of no money."

Right, because nothing attracts tourists more than the prospect of being able to glow in the dark.

OMFG!!!

Forget everything else: the EPA war on the environment; the gutting of every single regulation on the books; the pandering of the most racist elements in the country; the voter fraud commission whose real goal is to strike from the rolls potentially millions of eligible Democratic voters; the recent impaneled grand jury that is investigating Trump's associates and his business dealings. We are now at DEFCON 2. Next stop is DEFCON 1 and oblivion.

I'm not being hyperbolic here. If you are not afraid, you should be. In fact, you should be very afraid. We could be days, if not hours, away from nuclear war and the deaths of millions, if not billions, of people. The last time the world came this close to an all-out nuclear exchange was the Cuban-Missile Crisis of 1962. Back then, though, we had two responsible leaders in John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, both of whom knew that if either side pressed the button, both would perish. It was called MAD, mutually assured destruction.

Looking at the current clowns who preside over the U.S. and North Korea, the term MAD has a considerably different and quite literal meaning. The combined temperament of Kim and Trump wouldn't qualify for adolescent status. In fact, the only difference between the two is that Kim seems better informed about the situation than his counterpart, who treats daily briefings like they were dentist appointments.

And in case you were wondering what our defensive capability is, I have some bad news for you. If Kim launches, say, four ICBMs loaded with miniature warheads towards the U.S. mainland, we don't have the capacity to knock all of them down with any degree of certainty. The likelihood is that one or more will reach their targets. Yes, the U.S. will respond and North Korea will be wiped off the face of the Earth, but millions of Americans will die in the exchange. Los Angeles? San Francisco? Seattle? Portland? Who knows which or how many of these cities will be hit. Even the destruction of one of them would effectively cripple the U.S. economy as we know it. California, by itself, qualifies as the world's sixth largest economy. You don't replace that much GDP overnight.

If you're a deeply religious person, now would be a good time to get on your knees and pray to the God of your understanding that we make it through this. If you're a moderately religious person, pray as hard as you can for clearer heads to prevail. And even if you're a card-carrying member of the American Atheist Society, pray anyway. You can make up your own god if you like. Just do something, anything. Shitting your pants shouldn't be your only option, especially since I've already shit mine.

In my 56 years on this planet, I have never once gone to bed wondering if the world would still be there in the morning. The last few nights, though, I have done just that.

As a species, we have flirted with our own mortality several times and, by the grace of God, we have managed to survive. Funny thing about grace: it is NOT an entitlement.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Why Dems Should Take RAISE Act Seriously


Back in 2013, I had the honor of attending the graduation of my nephew from Texas A&M. I flew down to Houston the day before and rented a car to make the hour and a half trek towards College Station. Because all the hotels in town were booked, I was forced to find accommodations 10 miles to the south.

Traveling north on Route 6, I inadvertently exited too soon and found myself in a town that would've made Mayberry look like Midtown Manhattan. I pride myself on being an acute observer - something I developed during my retail days - and took notice of the cars in town. A couple of sedans, no minivans and a shitload of pickups - I lost count at about twenty. I didn't recall seeing a single "import." Mostly Fords and Chevys. There was one traffic light in the town, along with a stop sign, which I made damn certain to come to a complete stop at. No way in hell I was gonna end up in a jail cell in Texas.

I finally arrived at my destination; an inn that would've made Motel 6 look like Club Med. I remember the TV worked and the shower was functional, even if the bathroom door wouldn't close, and the next-door neighbors - I assumed they were living there - would occasionally get into, shall we say, a few "heated" arguments.

The image of that town is something I've never been quite able to shake from my memory, which is strange because in so many ways it is the town that most of the country never sees, unless, like me, they get lost on the way to their true destination. Rural America has thousands of towns just like the one I found myself in that afternoon: small, insular, and inconsequential. In the grand scheme of things, they matter about as much as a flea on a donkey's ass.

But while those of us in the cities and suburbs may have ignored their presence, in the rural parts of the country, where none of us dared to go, their dander was just starting to rise. Decades of being pissed on and made fun of by the "elites" can do funny things to people. The term flyover states refers to areas of the country that have either gone unnoticed or been taken for granted; places where going out to a Papa John's is a major event. To say they did not appreciated being looked down upon would be an understatement. You can cut the resentment in these towns with a machete, that's how thick it is and how deep it runs.

Most of us never saw the political tsunami of 2016 I suspect because most of us didn't want to. Like me, they had "better" things to do than pay attention to what we flippantly referred to as the armpit of America. They were hicks without hope, backwards and innocuous. They mattered as much to us as those industrial towns in places like Ohio and Michigan, where plants that once employed thousands of workers had been shut down for years, resulting in massive unemployment and a seething anger.

Well, a funny thing happened on November 8: those small hick towns in rural America joined forces with those industrial towns in the Rust-Belt states and gave the rest of us a giant middle finger. Almost as if on cue, they rose up and made their voices heard loud and clear. They were done being pissed on; now they would finally get the respect they deserved.

It's difficult for us to imagine, but for these people Donald Trump has become something of a folk hero. He was the candidate who told them the system was rigged and that they were being screwed, as if anyone there needed to be reminded. But Trump did more than just channel their rage; he told them he could help them. Politicians had promised them the moon before, only to fail miserably. But the difference between those past politicians and Trump was that Trump didn't just tell them he could fix things; he told them who was to blame for the mess: corrupt politicians and, of course, outsiders, e.g., illegal immigrants.

The former is an argument that, admittedly, has been used before, sometimes successfully. Every party paints the other as corrupt and responsible for the problems that beset the country. The last two wave elections - one Republican, the other Democrat - is proof that the electorate can often fall for this strategy. But Trump, despite running as a Republican, threw his own party under the bus as well as the Democrats. He was relentless in his assault of the entire political system; a variation on the old "a pox on both your houses" theme. And it worked brilliantly. To his supporters, he was not only authentic, but incorruptible. The GOP hated him, the Democrats hated him, therefore, he must be the real deal.

But it was his successful deployment of the latter that won him the White House. The constant blaming of foreigners who come to this country to steal jobs away from hard-working Americans. Whether the result of "terrible" trade deals or bad immigration policy, Trump pledged to end what he called the "carnage." America first, by extension, meant Americans only. Anyone who was considered an outsider had to leave. It was a form of nationalism and xenophobia on a scale never before seen in this country and, for Trump, it proved to be his meal ticket. From his "Mexicans are rapists" charge to his proposed ban of all Muslims entering the country, an astounding number of people bought in and voted for him on election day.

And despite the controversies that have ensnared his administration over the last six months, most of these voters have stuck with him. These are not people who read The New York Times or The Washington Post. Nor are they likely to watch CNN. Indeed, for many of them, Fox News is too mainstream. So when Trump says that the Russia scandal is fake news, they believe him, and no amount of evidence to the contrary is likely to persuade them otherwise. They aren't just supporters, they're disciples of a strange cult. And like all cults, the light of day never enters. Reason and reality are shunned for deception and lies. There is one simple rule: the leader speaks, the followers listen. In a rare moment of candor, Trump was correct when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any of his supporters. If that isn't the definition of a cult, I don't know what is.

But cults can only succeed where there is a breakdown in traditional institutions; be they religious or political. Trump saw an opportunity and cashed in. He knew that neither party had paid much attention to what was happening in both rural and industrial America. Republicans were fixated on maximizing corporate profits and expanding trade which led to the slashing of countless jobs at home and depressed salaries in the ones that remained. The result was that employees worked longer hours for less pay. Whole communities were torn apart and faced massive unemployment.

Democrats should have seized on the opportunity afforded them and used it as a rallying cry, but instead they too bedded down with Wall Street and became co-consiprators with Republicans. Both parties became obsessed with "soft" money and pandered to their respective bases. Republicans, the top 1 percent of wage earners; Democrats, the big cities and special interests, e.g., minorities. The once big tent party was all but estranged from two thirds of the country's geography.

If you don't believe me, that a good look at the election results from last November. Clinton won all the big cities: Boston, New York, Philly, D.C., Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, L.A., San Fran and Seattle. Trump won most of the rest. And he won by appealing to voters who felt left behind by this modern, culturally diverse, pluralistic economy. Many of them were blue-collar workers who longed for a return to the good old days when they were richly rewarded for their labor and everybody looked and sounded alike. They saw the influx of immigrants into the country as a threat, not just to their livelihoods, but to the neighborhoods they lived in and the very culture they grew up with. TV shows that catered to a demographic which no longer represented their values, along with once beloved radio stations that switched to more popular music formats, only served to reinforce their resentments.

So these people, egged on by Trump's rhetoric, in fear voted for a past that will never return, and against a future they cannot wrap their heads around. It wasn't just a case of revisionist history gone amuck, this was nothing less than a total rejection of the direction the country was heading in; a direction they view as inimical to their best interests.

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment or RAISE Act that was recently introduced by GOP Senators Tom Cotton and David Purdue - and subsequently endorsed by Trump and the Far Right - would seek to cut in half the number of legal immigrants that can come into this country legally, and those immigrants that do gain legal status would have to pass a merit test to determine their worthiness. This isn't the first time the nation has attempted to place a litmus test on immigrants. Lyndon Johnson tried and failed in 1965.

Thankfully, this bill will suffer the same fate, and for one very important reason: its underlining premise is a fraud and everyone knows it. The bill claims that low-skilled immigrants take jobs away from hard-working Americans. There is no evidence that this is the case. In fact, just the opposite; many of these low-skilled immigrants end up taking jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. Ask any farmer in the South or the Midwest. The overwhelming majority of workers who tend to their crops come from Latin America. They can't get Americans to endure the back-breaking work that these jobs demand regardless of the pay rate. Hell, in my neck of the woods you can't even find enough of them to fill the vacancies at fast-food joints. The idea that immigrants are the reason Americans can't find enough low-paying jobs is laughable. Besides, the goal shouldn't be filling low-paying jobs; it should be creating more high-paying ones, and this bill doesn't do a damn thing to address that.

As for the provision in the bill requiring any and all immigrants to be fluent in English, had this been the law a century ago, the vast majority of immigrants from Italy, Germany, Poland and China would never have been allowed to settle here. Virtually none of them spoke English, fluent or otherwise. It wasn't until the second generation that the sons and daughters of these immigrants became fluent in English and began to make significant contributions to this country by becoming doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, plumbers, electricians, construction workers and, yes, even politicians.

I suspect that what's really going on here has more to do with where these immigrants are coming from rather than whether they can speak the language. Notice how the Cotton-Purdue bill failed to mention immigrants from, say, Slovenia. No sense telling the current occupant of the White House that his wife wouldn't "merit" being in the country. Not unless you think "My husband vould make very good president" constitutes fluent English. If that's the case, the guy who takes my order at Wendy's is a fucking Rhodes scholar.

But this is why I think Democrats should take this bill seriously: not because it will address any of the real problems that beset our economy, but because an awful lot of people who live in the states Trump won think it will. Let's be clear here: the RAISE Act will not lead to an increase in high-paying jobs, nor will it bring relief to employers looking to fill low-paying ones. All it does is pander to the fears that people have about their future prospects. When they see a Hispanic working at a fast-food restaurant, especially one who struggles with the English language, it just reinforces the belief that their jobs are being stolen from them by immigrants. It matters not that many of them wouldn't want those jobs anyway. All that matters is the image that worker saying, "Welcome to Burger King, may I take your order?"

Some lies are tough, if not impossible, to break. But the first rule shouldn't be to deny that there's a reason the lie exists. My fear is that Democrats will do what they typically do: dismiss this ridiculous excuse for a bill, and with it the very legitimate fears of the people it was designed to appease. In politics this is called throwing the baby out with the bathwater, something Democrats do exceedingly well.

The way to win back the people who voted for Trump is to find out what makes them tick. Take their concerns seriously and come up with real solutions that actually work. Sensible immigration policy should be more than just granting unfettered access to immigrants who want to be a part of this great experiment we call democracy; it's about reassuring those who were born here that you give a shit about their needs.

Think about it this way: if you adopted a child and brought them into a home where you already had one, and then treated that adopted child better, how long would it be before your older child felt neglected and became resentful? If you think that's an overly simplistic way of looking at the issue of immigration, I suggest that the next time you go out for a drive, you take a detour through a small town and take a good look around.

Who knows, maybe, like me, you might learn a thing or two.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Do Not Shed A Tear for This West Wing


One of the more amusing aspects of this travesty we call an administration has been watching the media and Democrats fell sorry for Jeff Sessions over the way Donald Trump has been treating him. Sessions, they rightly point out, from the beginning was one of his most loyal supporters. How could he humiliate him like that?

Huh?

Are these people serious? Have they not been paying attention the last six months; indeed the last two years? This is standard operating procedure for Trump. In his world, loyalty flows upward never downward. Just look at the recent "resignation" of Anthony Scaramucci. First Trump hires him, supposedly to force out Reince Priebus, and then, after he does the heavy lifting for him, Trump brings in John Kelly as new White House Chief of Staff, who then boots Scaramucci. I swear you can't make this shit up.

Let me just say unequivocally right here and now. I have absolutely no pity whatsoever for anyone who was stupid enough to work for this man. Not Jeff Sessions, not Sean Spicer, not Kellyanne Conway, certainly not Scaramucci, and, yes, not even Kelly. The press and the media are all tripping over one another saying that Kelly will finally bring some order to the West Wing. Meanwhile Ivanka Trump, the First Lady pro temp, tweeted that she's "looking forward to serving alongside John Kelly as we work for the American people. General Kelly is a true American hero."

WTF?

Serving alongside?

Things like this simply do NOT happen in normal White Houses. But in the Trump White House, it's just another day at the office. In fact, you could call this White House AB-normal, to borrow a phrase from the movie Young Frankenstein. That's why I give Kelly a month at Comedy Central before he either tenders his resignation or it gets tendered for him. Knowing Trump's track record, it'll probably be the latter.

This is a man who, while he was a candidate, shrugged off a tape of him bragging about grabbing women's pussies as mere locker room talk; who openly encouraged violence at his rallies; who mocked a disabled journalist and issued threats against the media in general for publishing unflattering but true stories about him; who, time and again, made derogatory comments about Hispanics and said that African American communities were war zones.

And, since becoming president, he has done everything possible to thwart a criminal investigation into possible collusion between the Russians and his campaign, including firing the FBI director for not stopping it and belittling his attorney general for having the good sense to recuse himself from any involvement in it. He has lied so often over the last six months, it is actually easier to count the number of times he has told the truth.

He has zero integrity, zero accountability, zero couth and zero respect for the law. Just last week, at a rally on Long Island, he actually gave permission to the police to slam the heads of suspects into the doors of their cars while they were being apprehended. That same week, he spoke in front of the Boy Scouts of America and used some of the most reprehensible language any president has used in public. It was so offensive that the Boy Scouts of America issued an apology. The mind boggles.

So, you'll forgive me if I don't shed any tears for his staff. When you enter into a contract with the devil you shouldn't be surprised when you get stuck with the horns. The real victims here are the rule of law, the Constitution of the United States, indeed the very institutions that keep the country from descending into a Banana Republic. And they have been under constant assault ever since Trump took office.

The staff of this White House has bent over backwards trying to justify the unjustifiable and coddling a man who sees himself not as a president but as a dictator. You don't pity such people; you hold them in the contempt they were meant to be held in.

To hell with Jeff Sessions; to hell with them all.