Thursday, May 31, 2018

Words Matter, So Does the Truth

Well it didn’t take long for the mole people to come up with yet another false equivalence. This time the lucky contestants were Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee. The former made a clearly overt racist comment about Valerie Jarrett being the offspring of the "Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes"; while the latter called Ivanka Trump as a "feckless cunt" on her show Full Frontal.

I had a feeling while watching the episode that Bee might catch some flack over it. And, sure enough, she did. For the record, what Bee said was wrong. It's a very demeaning term to women and she should've known better. She fucked up and, to her credit, she promptly issued an apology to both Trump's daughter and her viewers.

Which is more than I can say for Barr, who after she was called on the carpet, deleted the tweet and then came up with one half-assed excuse after another for her conduct. First she insisted she really wasn't a racist, just an idiot - as if the latter was a revelation. Next she claimed the drug Ambien was to blame. When that didn't work, she accused her co-stars of throwing her under the bus. To date, she still hasn't officially owned up to what she did. The final insult was when she suggested that Jarrett was a Persian, not really a black woman. Well that settles it; I guess there are no apes in the Middle East.

But far from being a one-off - as Bee's faux pas clearly was - it seems this wasn't the first racist slur that Barr has tweeted. Back in 2013, she went after then National Security Advisor Susan Rice, calling her "a man with big swinging ape balls." What can I say? She's got a thing for apes. Well at least she didn't call Rice a Persian. That would've been going too far.

And as far as the White House is concerned, still no condemnation from the Cadet Bone Spurs. Instead, he lashed out at ABC for, and I swear I'm not making this up, not apologizing to him. Because as we all know, it's always about Trump, even when it's not. What can you say about a man who thinks there are good Nazis and who accuses Mexicans of being rapists? Frankly, I would've been shocked if Trump had said or done anything different.

It's getting tiresome to have to keep repeating myself, but apparently the message isn't getting through. So let me say it again. Enough with the false equivalences already. What Roseanne Barr said wasn't just insensitive or demeaning, it was racist. There are simply some lines you don't cross and Barr crossed one of them. That's why her show was canceled and Bee's wasn't. To equate what both said is to ignore 400 years of racial bigotry in this country.

Yes, words matter and there are consequences when they are used inappropriately. As a salesman, I know this all too well. And let me be clear here: I am by no means condoning what Bee said; far from it. She should be held accountable and, apparently, she is. As of now, at least two companies have decided to pull their ads from her show. Who knows how many more will follow suit. The sad truth about corporate America is that perception is often the driving force behind most of its decisions.

But if words matter, then truth matters even more. And no matter how much obfuscating or rationalizing one does, the undeniable truth is that it is physically impossible to turn an apple into an orange.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Trey Gowdy Crashes the Party

File this under, "Boy, didn't see that coming." Trey Gowdy, the man who spent eleven hours grilling Hillary Clinton on Benghazi, only to be made a fool of by her, just shot down Donald Trump's wild assertion that the FBI spied on his campaign.

In an interview on Trump's own political network, e.g., Fox News, Gowdy said "the FBI acted appropriately when it used an informant to gather information about Donald Trump campaign advisers who allegedly had suspicious contacts linked to Russia prior to the 2016 election."
"I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump."
That thump you heard Tuesday morning, which was when the interview aired, was the entire viewing audience of Fox News hitting the floor in unison. I understand that the University of Southern California measured the quake at 5.0 on the Richter Scale. Another half a point and we would've had a real situation on our hands. Next time, Gowdy should prep his audience better. Maybe he could say something like, "You might want sit down before I speak because I'm about to go off script."

Seriously, what Gowdy did cannot be overstated enough. He not only contradicted his president, which given the current state of the GOP, amounts to an act of treason, he gave other members of his party the cover to do the same. One of those members is one Marco Rubio, who is to profiles in courage what Trump is to dignity and class. During an interview on ABC, Rubio also stuck a fork in this president's baseless claim.
"As far as what I have seen to date, it appears that there was an investigation not of the campaign, but of certain individuals who have a history that we should be suspicious of, that predate the presidential campaign of 2015, 2016. And when individuals like that are in the orbit of a major political campaign in America, the FBI, who is in charge of counterintelligence investigations, should look at people like that."
Luckily for us most Trump supporters don't watch ABC or we would've had two seismic events, not just one, to contend with. Can you imagine two prominent Republicans - or at least what passes for prominent these days - standing up to this compulsive liar? Gowdy you can understand. He's not running for reelection this year so, like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, he's free to speak what's left of his mind. But Rubio, I suppose, intends to run again for president at some point. Apparently he doesn't know - or care - that elephants have long memories. This act of betrayal will not be forgotten, I can assure you.

Perhaps what we are witnessing is the genesis of a rebellion in the ranks by some of the more lucid Republicans who have decided that whatever short-term pain it might bring them, pales in comparison to the long-term consequences this presidency will have on their party's future. Of course, I could be reaching here. Rubio has had similar moments in his relatively brief political career when he appeared to have a spine, only to collapse like a bowl of jello when push came to shove. Remember the immigration reform bill that he co-sponsered? He ran away from that one like a bat out of hell once he announced his intention to run for president. Given he's being attacked by the likes of Mark Levin, don't be surprised if he has "a moment of clarity" on this issue by the end of the week.

What both these episodes, however, underscore is that Rod Rosenstein was correct when he agreed to a briefing with House Republicans concerning the FBI probe. True it was unprecedented for the Justice Department to share classified intelligence during an active investigation, but by doing so, Rosenstein did more to "unmask" this president for the vacuous fraud he is than he would've by refusing. Had he resigned, which was what some wanted him to do, Trump would've simply appointed a replacement, who by now would've likely stopped or seriously curtailed the whole Russia investigation.

Now that the truth is out, people will finally get the chance to see for themselves that there is no deep state looking to destroy Trump. If anything, Trump IS the deep state looking to destroy the government. It is only the resiliency of the very institutions that he is maligning on a daily basis that have thus far saved us from becoming the banana republic he wants to establish.

And that's all the more reason why Rosenstein must allow Robert Mueller to issue one or more indictments against this president. To hell with DOJ protocol. The evidence is clear. If anybody else besides Trump engaged in this kind of conduct or behavior, he or she would be arrested, tried and convicted. End of story. Period!

This isn't Watergate; it's Watergate on steroids. And the Republic is hanging in the balance.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Peace In His Mind

Well, so much for that Nobel Peace Prize. Ah, so close, yet so far.

Like all presidents before him, Donald Trump learned that North Korea can’t be trusted when it comes to negotiating. The announcement that the meeting with Kim Jong Un “will not take place,” did not come as a surprise to those who felt it shouldn’t have been scheduled in the first place. Frankly, I not only had my doubts about the prospects of reaching a substantive agreement between both countries, given Trump’s penchant for shitty deals, the fear was he’d do something stupid like pull American forces out of the peninsula. Thankfully that won’t happen. Now all we have to do is pray somebody kidnaps the guy with the nuclear football.

Trump expressed his disappointment at Kim in a letter which read in pertinent part, “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”

Okay, two things: One: you know Trump didn’t write this because it’s actually well written and it has punctuation in it. This man wouldn’t know a comma from a hyphen. Two: “Long-planned?” Are you joking? You agreed to this meeting in less time than it takes you to say "Fake News." Seriously, there are people who put more thought into taking a dump than you did with this meeting.

But while Trump may not have personally written the letter, he nonetheless dictated it. That’s because it contained all the typical “my dick is bigger than your dick” bravado we’ve come to expect from him. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” Naturally the markets went into a spiral. Seems nothing turns off capitalists more than the prospect of World War III turning their fortunes into ashes.

And now there might be an even bigger problem apart from Trump’s bruised ego. By canceling the summit, Trump made Kim look like the good guy, which, given the fact he’s murdered tens of thousands of his people, including his own uncle, is quite a feat. His impulsiveness, first in accepting the invitation to meet, then pulling out, has made America the outlier in the region. North Korea now has the leverage in the internationally community it didn’t have a few months ago. Way to go, Sparky.

Look, I understand, it’s tough raising kids. That’s why my wife and I decided not have any. But one of few remaining adults in this administration has to take this ass hat aside and tell him to stop treating world leaders like they’re Meat Loaf and Gary Busey. You don’t get to fire heads of state, no matter what your base may think. Jesus, the lives of 7.4 billion people hang on what this juvenile delinquent does and so far, based on all the evidence we’ve seen, I’d say we’re pretty damn lucky the planet’s still here.

The danger, though, with playing Russian Roulette is that sooner or later you catch the bullet.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rod Rosenstein Gets A Stay of Execution

Poor Rod Rosenstein, I know exactly what he’s going through; well sorta. On more than one occasion I’ve had to pull a rabbit out of the hat just to keep my job. You can’t imagine how humiliating it is to walk into a meeting with your boss and have him read you out over everything you’ve done wrong, while systematically ignoring everything he and the company has done wrong. For anyone who’s been there, it’s never pleasant; nor is it a two-way street. Like Kevin Bacon, you assume the position, take your beating and say “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

Now I don’t know exactly how Rosenstein’s White House meeting with Donald Trump went down. But from everything I’ve read and from what we know about this president, the Bacon analogy isn’t all that far-fetched, except instead of holding a paddle, Trump was holding a copy of the Constitution, and instead of saying “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray - who was also summoned to the White House - played the role of Colonel Hogan to Trump’s Colonel Klink. For those not familiar with the popular ‘60s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, it was about a bunch of prisoners at a German POW camp who took turns duping the commandant - Klink - who for lack of a better term was a gullible idiot.

The reason for this meeting was that Trump demanded an investigation of the investigation into himself and his campaign, and rather than resign or refuse, Rosenstein mollified him, not by appointing another special counsel, which would’ve been unprecedented, but by referring the whole matter to the Inspector General’s office. He then issued a statement which read, “If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.” Wow, even Colonel Hogan would’ve been hard-pressed to top that.

And that’s why Rosenstein still has a job today. But here's the question I would pose. Should he have just refused the "demand" and challenged Trump to fire him? Or, perhaps even better, just flat out resigned? Some, including David Frum, say he should’ve. Others feel strongly that the best thing Rosenstein can do to protect the integrity of the investigation is to hang on to his job as long as possible, even if it means being humiliated by a man who in all likelihood will probably fire him anyway. They argue that each day Rosenstein remains in his job allows Robert Mueller the time he needs to put together a case for obstruction – for which this stunt provides ample evidence - and present his findings to the Justice Department.

I confess I’m torn. Both sides make valid points. Each time Rosenstein gives in to Trump, if only a little, he enables him and undermines the integrity of the DOJ and the FBI, both of which have come under assault by this president and his allies in Congress. It also gives this president the excuse he needs to continue with this outrageous counter narrative of some deep state looking to destroy his presidency. Drawing a firm line and daring Trump to cross it might result in his firing, but it would bring this whole scandal to a head once and for all.

But then the pragmatist in me looks at the cold hard facts. If Trump fires Rosenstein, he will simply appoint a replacement who will shut down the Russia investigation and remove Mueller entirely. The problem with daring Trump to cross a line is that his whole life is a series of lines that have been crossed. He has no regard for norms or laws, nor does he have a moral compass. I wrote in an earlier piece that Trump knows he’s guilty and he will do anything he can to make sure the truth never gets out.

The more I think about it, what Rosenstein is doing may have risks, but he really has no other alternative. Yes, Trump may indeed fire him next week or maybe the week after that or the week after that. The point is, he didn’t fire him this week, and that’s one more week the country can exhale while the wheels of justice continue to turn. 

And, for now, that’s good enough for me.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Walking and Chewing Gum at the Same Time

Michael Tomasky wasn't pulling any punches in his latest piece in The Daily Beast. In fact, he cut right to the chase. If Democrats don't get "much tougher" on Trump and his scandals, they are going to lose the midterms. He explains,
Imagine that Hillary Clinton were president and the Republicans were investigating the Clinton Foundation, and she ordered an investigation into that investigation, charging, based on no evidence whatsoever, that the FBI had improperly infiltrated the foundation. And no, this professor is not “proof” of “infiltration.” And anyway, if the FBI has credible reason to believe a crime may have been committed, isn’t infiltration of the enterprise suspected of criminality…their job? 
Or imagine that Barack Obama had ordered an investigation into any of the various investigations of the Benghazi consular attack. Or for that matter that George W. Bush had ordered an investigation into the investigation into the Valerie Plame outing
In any of those cases, Washington would have exploded. But now this president—who, it is documented, has spent 40 years lying to and defrauding people in business, and who lies nearly every time he speaks—and his apologists have so corrupted our system that some people are discussing Trump’s move as if it’s legitimate. Just another interesting twist and turn in Donald Trump’s Washington, ha ha.
Tomasky's argument is that Democrats are ignoring the 800 pound gorilla in the White House because they're worried about how they might look. Meanwhile, were the shoe on the other foot, the Republicans would be coming at them with pitchforks in hand. Such a strategy could backfire on them in the fall. He further writes,
Candidates campaigning in districts can talk about prescription drugs and other matters all they want. This will happen well below the radar of cable news shows, but voters will hear them. Meanwhile, the national party has to talk about Trump. If a narrative develops between now and November that the Democrats want to be “careful” about how they speak of Trump, core Democratic voters will be demoralized and disgusted.
I have to say Tomasky has a point. I've been thinking a lot about this lately. On the one hand, using the "I" word (impeachment) could be just the thing that motivates the GOP base to show up at the polls; on the other hand, throwing cold water on the Democratic base's hopes of removing Trump could turn the 2018 midterms into a repeat of the 2014 midterms. If you'll recall that was the year progressives decided to beam themselves up to the mothership and circle the planet while the party lost the Senate. In fact, lost would the understatement of the year. Think Little Big Horn, only bloodier.

So, how do Democrats thread this needle? And trust me, this is one helluva needle. Here's how: by walking and chewing gum at the same time. The game plan calls for Democratic candidates to mention Trump as much as possible, but avoid impeachment talk like the plague. Instead they will concentrate on the corruption within the administration and, by extension, the GOP. If this sounds familiar, it should. Democrats employed the same strategy in 2006 when they took both houses of Congress.

In a press conference Monday along with her fellow Democratic leaders, Nancy Pelosi said, "President Trump has become the swamp and Americans are paying the price. The American people deserve better." Chuck Schumer added his two cents, "The swamp has never been more foul than under this president."

Okay, not bad. You got the swamp word in there a couple of times. Trump promised during his campaign to drain it. Instead, he's filled it with alligators. And rather than removing Trump, Democrats will use their majority as a check on his excesses. No, it doesn't sound as sexy as an impeachment, and there's always the possibility that it will not satisfy the Tom Steyer wing of the party, who aren't just looking for red meat, they're looking for the whole damn lion. But let's face it: even if Democrats take back the House and actually impeach Trump, no way they'll get 67 votes in the Senate to convict. Like it or not, even with a Mueller indictment, they and we are stuck with Trump till at least 2021. Hence plan B.

But while they're busy pointing out how corrupt this administration is to the American electorate, it wouldn't exactly kill them to lay out an alternative vision for the country. Like for instance, why is it that Republicans have barely mentioned their singular legislative achievement: the tax law? Could it be that maybe they know that a good chuck of the middle class is going to get hosed when they do their taxes next year? Democrats would do well to hammer the GOP on this issue. Another issue they can hammer them on is healthcare, where Republicans efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act have hurt millions of people.

Look, not everyone is following the Russia investigation as closely as the pundits in Washington D.C. On Main Street, America, people's needs are much more immediate. As James Carville famously said, it's about the economy stupid. And even in an economy as strong as this, there are still people who've been left behind. Trump promised he'd take care of them. He clearly lied. Democrats have to drive that point home by hook or crook.

I've never subscribed to the theory that you put all your eggs in one basket. Democrats have an enormous opportunity to retake the House; perhaps even the Senate. To do that will take a two-pronged approach: Hit this president and his party where they live and then give voters a real choice in the midterms. It's up to them whether they punch the football into the end zone or they fumble it on the one-yard line.

History suggests the latter, but, hey, you never know. They did it once, they can do it again. Even the Cubs managed to win a World Series.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

America's Soul Sickness

"History will not look kindly upon those elected officials who failed to act in the face of repeated mass murders of our children. Spare us your thoughts and prayers and do your jobs."

- Mike Rawlings, Dallas Mayor

I couldn't have said it better myself. Except I would've expanded my ire to include the millions of people who were too busy to care about voting in the last election and the millions who actually did manage to show up, but for some unknown reason pulled the lever for the very same elected officials who sold every last ounce of their integrity. Trust me, the blood of these children is as much on your hands as it is on the gutless fools you sent to Washington.

You want statistics? Fine. How about twenty-two school shootings in the first twenty weeks of 2018? Here's another statistic: there were more children killed in mass shootings this year than there were soldiers killed in the line of duty. Yes, you heard that right. There was more blood spilled in our nation's schools than there was in the field of battle. If that doesn't make you sick to your stomach than nothing will.

But the two most revealing statistics are the most damning of all: voter turnout and incumbent reelection rates.

Since 1932 - the first year that hard data was available - the turnout among eligible voters ranged from a low of 49 percent in 1996 to a high of 62.8 percent in 1960. That is a frighteningly low number. And consider that these were presidential elections when turnout is typically higher. In off year or midterm elections, the numbers are significantly lower. In 2014, for instance, a paltry 36.4 percent turned out to vote; the lowest number in 70 years.

Imagine a country the size of the United States, with an adult population of almost a quarter billion people, and a turnout percentage ranging from just over a third to just under two thirds of eligible voters. That is a statistic which should shame all of us, especially when you consider that in Australia the voter turnout for the last election was 94 percent. But then Australians are required by law to vote; American voters have no such requirements.

But a lack of voter turnout is only part of the problem. The crux of the problem lies in what happens when those voters actually step into the polls and pull the lever. According to The Washington Post, the incumbent reelection rate in this country is an astounding 90 percent for the House of Representatives and 91 percent for the Senate. That would be an acceptable rate if Congress's approval rating were deserving of such support among the electorate. But given that it's somewhere between a used-car salesman and a serial killer, it stands as a staggering contradiction.

When you combine the percentage of people who neglect to exercise their right to vote with the percentage of politicians who continually get reelected despite record low approval ratings, you wind up with the mess we're in: a group of spineless leaders who have the ultimate in job security granted them by an electorate too detached and apathetic to exert the authority granted it by the Constitution.

So maybe the real problem isn't with Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or even Donald Trump. Maybe it's with us, the voters. We, collectively, decided to send them to Washington, along with all the other politicians who continually fail to do their jobs, as the mayor of Dallas adroitly pointed out. And it is we, the voters, who keep sending them back year after year. They have no incentive to change because we've given them no reason to. Perhaps it's time we stopped blaming them and took a long, hard look in the mirror.

How many more school shootings will it take? How many more children will have to be slaughtered? How many more thoughts and prayers will be offered up in vain? The deceased do not need our thoughts and prayers, and the living have had quite enough of both. It is not for lack of praying that we find ourselves in this predicament. To quote from the epistle of James, "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

This country was built by men and women of action. It was founded on the understanding that for a government to function properly it must be held accountable by an informed and engaged electorate. Our leaders are only as effective as the voters demand them to be. If the latter abrogates its responsibility, the result is what we now have: a completely dysfunctional government serving at the pleasure, not of the people who elected it, but of the special interests which continue to reward its malfeasants with unspeakable riches. The very definition of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Shakespeare was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Mueller Investigation Enters Year Two

With the Mueller investigation now entering its second year, two questions need to be answered: One, where will all this end up? In other words, what are the odds that Mueller will find evidence of collusion, obstruction and / or money laundering and, more importantly, what will he do about it? Two, if Mueller's investigation turns up anything criminal involving Trump, will it make any difference to his supporters?

With respect to question one, it's still too early to tell, but based on the 22 indictments Mueller has handed down - including four to members of Trump's campaign - it's clear where he's headed. The latest revelation that Michael Cohen apparently had a slush fund that received monies from an American company with ties to a Russian oligarch makes it clear that a money laundering charge remains a real possibility.

I wrote in an earlier piece that Trump's real concern isn't collusion or even obstruction; it's money laundering. He's terrified that the country might find out that most of his revenue comes from Russian oligarchs with close ties to Putin. Such a disclosure would ruin him, not just politically, but financially, which is really the only thing he cares about.

If Mueller does indeed find sufficient evidence that Trump is guilty of one or all of the above, I believe he'll go to his boss Rod Rosenstein and inform him that he's moving forward with an indictment or  indictments. Naturally he knows, as does Rosenstein, what that would mean politically. A sitting president has never been indicted, much less convicted, of a crime. But Mueller isn't concerned with the present. Assuming he isn't impeached, a given considering how spineless this Republican-controlled Congress is, Mueller knows that Trump is safe so long as he's in office.

The problem for Trump is that he won't be in office forever. At some point - be it 2021 or 2025 - he will become a private citizen and he'll be held accountable for any criminal offenses he may have committed while president. However, only if the statute of limitations - which is five years for most federal crimes - hasn't run out. If Mueller indicts him while he's president, the clock ostensibly stops ticking, thus allowing a future prosecutor to finish the work he started.

Do you really think Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon because he was a nice guy or that he was looking to end America's long suffering nightmare? Spare me. He knew what Nixon had done and he also knew that a lengthy and messy criminal investigation was a very real possibility. He issued the pardon because he didn't want the sordid details to be aired in public. He was wrong and the reason we know this is because we now have a president in the Oval Office who makes Nixon look like George Washington and who believes he can't be touched. And for that we have Ford to thank.

So, yes, if Mueller finds sufficient grounds to indict, I do believe he will move forward.

As regards to the second question - will any of this make a difference to Trump supporters? - that depends on what we mean by Trump supporter. It's clear that among his core supporters, nothing will change their minds. This is a witch hunt by the deep state to depose a democratically elected president. Case closed.

But there's no way Trump gets elected on the strength of just his core supporters. The reason he's in the White House is because he managed to get a lot of blue-collar Democrats to vote for him. And while most of those voters still hold a favorable impression of him, they are by no means locked in. If Mueller makes a compelling case that Trump is guilty of collusion, obstruction or worse, I think a lot of those voters will flee him like passengers fleeing a sinking ship.

Trump knows this. That's why he's panicking. It's also why his sycophants are going to any lengths to discredit the investigation. When he was first appointed by Rosenstein, Mueller was hailed by conservatives as being fair and thorough. Now many of those very same conservatives are calling for his head. Gee, I wonder why.

While we still don't know where this investigation will end up, based on what we know of Mueller, it would be a YUGE mistake for anyone to underestimate him. He will look under every rock and explore any and all leads in his pursuit of the truth. Trump can obfuscate and misdirect all he wants; he can send Rudy Giuliani to do all the cable news interviews he wants; in the end it won't make a bit of difference. The court of public opinion will not decide this case; the law will.

The bottom line is this: Donald Trump is in for the fight of his life against an adversary that won't be intimidated or deterred. Sean Hannity can't save him any more than the ghost of Roy Cohn can.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What To Make Of Tuesday's Primaries

It's been a few days since Tuesday's primaries and there are a couple of takeaways that are worth noting. The first was in West Virginia where most political pundits feel the GOP dodged a bullet when Don Blankenship came in third in the Republican primary. Had he won, they argue, Joe Manchin's reelection to another term in the Senate would've been all but guaranteed.

I'm not so certain. True, Blankenship would have been an embarrassment for the Republican Party, but given that Roy Moore almost won in Alabama this year and Donald Trump actually did in 2016, being an embarrassment isn't the disqualifier it used to be. Running against a loose canon like Blankenship would've forced Manchin into a tit for tat mud wrestling match, which was precisely how Trump beat Hillary Clinton. Against a more conventional opponent like Patrick Morrissey, who also happens to be the state's attorney general, Manchin will be able to run on his record, which as it turns out, is quite impressive.

Manchin is well liked and respected among the voters, and for a Democrat in a state Trump won by 42 points, that's no easy feat. I'm not saying he's a shoo-in, but it will be awfully difficult for Republicans to paint him as a liberal. I've been saying this for a while, but I like Manchin's chances this November, especially in light of the latest news that Blankenship has decided not to endorse Morrissey, which should help keep some of the Trumpier voters from turning out on election day.

To be fair, West Virginia wasn't the only state where a fringe candidate was defeated. In Ohio, Dennis Kucinich was trounced by former Attorney General Richard Cordray. And while Kucinich is no Blankenship, the fact is he had virtually no chance of being elected to the office of governor. At least with Cordray, who is viewed as a much more moderate candidate, Democrats have a fighting chance in November. I keep harping on this, but it's important for progressives to accept that outside of certain geographical areas of the country, they are not well liked. The Bernie wing of the party may have all the juice, but in places like Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, that juice is undrinkable to a majority of the voters.

But the second, and perhaps more important, takeaway from Tuesday had to do with turnout; particularly Democratic turnout, which overall was greater than Republican turnout. This is a trend that began with last year's gubernatorial election in Virginia and has continued throughout these midterms. It's clear that Democratic voters are energized in a way we haven't seen since 2006. That was the year the GOP lost both houses of Congress. Republicans are worried a repeat might be in the offing. And if Tuesday is any indication, they have a right to be concerned.

In West Virginia, almost 160 thousand people turned out to vote in the Democratic primary compared to just 136 thousand who voted in the Republican primary. To some extent this isn't a total surprise; Registered Democrats do outnumber registered Republicans. And when Manchin won in 2012, he also got more votes in his primary than his Republican opponent got in his. For Democrats to hold onto this seat, though, Manchin will have to hope for a repeat performance this November.

Then there was North Carolina's 9th district, where incumbent Republican Robert Pittenger lost to challenger Mark Harris. In that race, Democrat Dan McCready got more votes in his primary than all three GOP candidates got in theirs combined. This seat has now gone from likely Republican to tossup.

And lastly, in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, Democratic turnout surpassed Republican turnout for the first time since 1982. According to the data, overall turnout was up 21 percent from the 2010 and 2014 midterms, both of which saw significant gains by Republicans. It cannot be overstated enough that Democrats historically have had problems getting their voters to the polls in midterm elections. This could be the year where all that changes.

When you look at the generic polling, which still shows Democrats ahead by 6 points in the RCP average, and combine that with what happened Tuesday, it's clear Democrats have a real shot of taking at least one chamber of Congress. It may not be a wave like the one we saw in '06, but with only 23 seats needed in the House to regain the majority, it doesn't have to be.

As they say in baseball, they all look like line drives in the box score.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Will the Death of John McCain Help Bring About the End of Trump?

From all accounts it's clear that John McCain's brain cancer has spread beyond the point of treatment. It is no longer a matter of if but when he will succumb. Friends of the senator have stopped by his Arizona ranch to wish him well. Like Ted Kennedy before him, the nation will mourn his passing.

For myself, I often think back to that moment in 2000 when McCain and Bill Bradley vied for the Republican and Democratic nominations. Both men were fiercely independent politicians, unbeholden to the partisan politics that were strangling Washington, and each offered the nation a truly genuine choice. I often wonder what might've been had they won their respective party's nominations. Just imagine what a debate between Bradly and McCain would've looked like. Given what took place between George Bush and Al Gore, my heart aches.

But while that John McCain was a true maverick, the one who decided to run for president again in '08 was anything but. True, he elected not to go gutter against Barack Obama, even going so far as to correct a woman at one of his rallies who questioned Obama's patriotism. But McCain's decision to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate was not only his undoing in the general election, for many it called into question his judgment. In the decade since, he has never lived down that decision.

Maybe that was why he finally expressed remorse in his memoir over his VP choice. While stopping short of criticizing Palin, he lamented his decision not to go with his initial instinct and pick Connecticut senator - and personal thorn in the side of Democrats - Joe Lieberman. We'll never know for certain whether it would've made any difference in the outcome, but one thing's for certain: the nation would've been spared from having to endure her never-ending assault on the senses. Palin's meteoric rise within the conservative movement helped set the table for the anti-intellectual, nativist elements that have taken over the GOP and brought us to the age of Trump. For those who say Trump is an anomaly, I disagree; he's the culmination of a decade's long quest to purge the Republican Party of any vestige of its once storied existence.

No doubt McCain regrets his role in creating this monster; deep down, he knows there's nothing he can do to undo the damage he helped unleash. But perhaps there is a way he can make amends. He's already taken the first step by letting it be known that he does not want Donald Trump to attend his funeral. You don't disrespect a man as much as Trump did and then have the audacity to show up at his wake. McCain then said he wanted Obama and Bush - the two men who denied him the White House - to deliver eulogies.

But more than just who attends his funeral or who gives the eulogy, McCain's death could awaken a new era of camaraderie in Washington, thus granting him the absolution that eluded him in life. With all the talk about the energy on both the left and the right, the real hope for the country resides in the center. Men like McCain knew that all too well. Maybe that's why he implored his long-time friend Joe Biden to "not walk away" from politics. Whether Biden decides to run for president in 2020 or not, he can be a power of example for those who do. Whoever defeats Trump - and he must be defeated - is going to inherit a fractured and deeply broken political system. He or she will have little choice but to reach across the aisle.

John McCain's legacy - the one he forged through decades of public service and combat duty in Vietnam - will live on long after his death. It will remind us that once upon a time there was this city called Washington where people went to accomplish great things. They were far from perfect but that didn't stop them from reaching for the stars.

As a nation we have had our ups and downs. We've endured the shame of slavery and taken steps to end racism, imperfect though they may be. We invented the microchip and landed a man on the moon several times. We wept for our dead on 9/11 and rebuilt that which was torn down. The same head winds that swept Trump into power can also sweep him out.

It seems to me that the best way to beat a divider is with a uniter. Perhaps the death of John McCain will force us all to embrace our better angels and allow the country to exorcize the demon that has seized its collective soul.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

All the King's Horses Asses

Rudy Giuliani had to walk back his statements on Fox News regarding Donald Trump's involvement  in the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels; Michael Cohen, who facilitated that payment, may well be disbarred and quite possibly wind up in prison; John Kelly had to grovel in front of Trump and millions of TV viewers just to hold onto a job that anyone with a shred of self-respect would've quit months ago; Rex Tillerson was fired over Twitter because he said Trump was a fucking idiot; H.R. McMaster got the heave-ho for making the fatal error of having an opinion that ran contrary to his excellency; Gary Cohn was ousted because he tried to tell Trump that imposing tariffs would harm U.S. exports; Paul Manafort is facing a prison sentence for money laundering; James Comey was fired because he wouldn't drop the investigation into Michael Flynn; speaking of Michael Flynn, he's also going to prison for lying to the FBI; Steve Bannon was forced to resign because apparently there was only room enough for one other racist asshole in the White House besides Trump and Steve Miller already called dibs on it; and Jeff Sessions, one of his earliest supporters, has been the recipient of his constant taunts for recusing himself in the Russia investigation.

The remaining crew on the voyage of the damned are all scrambling to find ways they can ingratiate themselves to Lord Fauntleroy while desperately clinging to whatever is left of their tattered reputations. For many, the latter will prove to be an exercise in futility. The sad and undeniable truth is that, without exception, every person who has worked for or been associated with Donald Trump has either been humiliated, indicted or both. Just look at what happened to his doctor, Harold Borstein. This is the quack who pronounced Trump the healthiest man ever to run for office and for his efforts his office got raided. This president is to politics what Roto-Rooter is to clogged drains.

Which begs the question: why would anyone with half a brain willingly sign up to be a part of this train wreck? Listen, I get it. Everyone has a cause they believe in. As hard as it is for me to fantom there are people who still believe in supply-side economics. So, I suppose that had Mitt Romney won in 2012, he would've had a lot of people who wanted to be a part of his administration who genuinely believed in what he was trying to accomplish. Not everyone in politics is jaded. Some still have strong convictions that they feel compelled to follow. And Washington desperately needs such people, now more than ever.

But imagine working for someone who treats his people like garbage; who never listens to the advice he's given; who won't let the people he hired do their jobs; who throws them under the bus the first chance he gets; who rewards loyalty not with loyalty in return but a pink slip and a public thrashing. I've heard of people wth low self esteem but this takes the cake. If there isn't a 12-Step program for ex-Trump employees there ought to be.

All the best people? How about all the people with nothing left to lose? Because at the rate this president is burning bridges, that'll be the only people he'll be able to attract. Just look at his "legal" team. He went from Ty Cobb and John Dowd to Moe, Larry and Curley. He says he's ready to "override" their advice and appear before Bob Mueller. Since Trump typically overrides everyone who works for him, I'm guessing that's just another day at the office. Seriously, can you imagine having this guy for a client? At least Charles Manson knew when to shut up.

What Trump really wants are people who will be completely subservient to his every whim and desire. Since he's already determined he's the smartest one in the room, the only thing he needs from his people is blind allegiance. You either say "yes sir" or you get lost; and just in case you don't have the good sense to get lost, Trump will show you the exit. The way he forces his people to publicly praise him is the sort of thing that only happens in third-world countries. The manner in which Christian conservatives fawn over him makes me wonder whether the Church is apostate in this country. And the party that was once the proud home to men like Lincoln and Eisenhower, is now a mere shell of itself; its leaders emasculated and rendered irrelevant.

As of now the judiciary is acting as a check on Trump's thirst for power, but at the rate he is filling vacancies on the lower courts, even that check may well soon disappear. The only hope we have is an informed press sounding the alarms, but as we saw all too clearly at the White House Correspondents Dinner, most of them seemed more concerned with the vulgarity of a comedian than with the vulgarity of the man in the Oval Office.

Despots count on many things, but first and foremost is willful ignorance. A country too distracted to know what is going on right under its nose is a country ripe for a takeover. The Founders may have envisioned someone like Trump when they wrote the Constitution, but they never envisioned that the people entrusted with stopping him would gleefully go along for the ride.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

With Friends Like These...

I don't know what law school Rudy Giuliani graduated from, but based on his two appearances on Fox News, I'd seriously consider putting in for a refund. Because if the words that came out of his mouth are representative of his legal acumen, Giuliani got ripped off.

In a desperate attempt to help his dear friend Donald Trump, Perry Mason decided to drop by the studios at 1211 Avenue of the Americas to enlighten the Mole people on this whole Stormy Daniels controversy. First up on the grand tour was Sean Hannity, who if Trump were to suddenly stop short would need the jaws of life to be extricated from his ass. Giuliani said that not only did Trump know about the payment Michael Cohen made to Daniels - contradicting his former statements on the matter, by the way - he repaid Cohen out of his own funds. Giuliani claimed that there couldn't be any violation of campaign finance law because the campaign was never involved.

The following morning, old motor mouth went on Fox and Friends and doubled down on his claim. Then he added this gem:
Imagine if that came out on Oct. 15, 2016 in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton. Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He didn’t even ask.
Yes, imagine if that had come out in October BEFORE the election. The American people might've had the opportunity to consider whether they wanted a president who cheated on his wife with a porn star. At least JFK screwed an actual actress.

But while Giuliani may have thought he was doing his "client" a favor, in actuality he may have helped put the final nail in his coffin. That's because the way campaign finance laws are written, it really doesn't matter who loaned the money and who repaid it. At least that's the opinion of George Conway, husband of White House advisor Kelleyanne. He tweeted the following:
"If any person, including a relative or friend of the candidate, gives or loans the candidate money for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office, the funds are not considered personal funds of the candidate even if they are given to the candidate directly. Instead, the gift or loan is considered a contribution from the donor to the campaign, subject to the per-election limit and reportable by the campaign. This is true even if the candidate uses the funds for personal living expenses while campaigning."
So it doesn't matter if Trump repaid Cohen out of his own personal funds. If the original payment to Daniels was made to keep her from talking, that would be a gift or loan to the campaign which would be subject to the same "per-election" limit that governs all donations. And that limit for an individual is $2700. So Cohen violated campaign finance law to the tune of $127, 300.

All in all, a pretty horrendous performance by someone professing to know the law. And we didn't even touch on his comments regarding Russia, in which Rudy ostensibly confirmed that Trump fired James Comey to obstruct the investigation into his campaign.

If you're thinking how ironic it is that a former prosecutor would unwittingly assist in making the case against this president by the current prosecutor and that it would fall to the husband of one of his closest advisors to let us in on how it was done, I would agree. But then we're not exactly talking about overly bright people here. Giuliani actually believes Trump is innocent and Conway for some unknown reason is still married to Kelleyanne.

I wrote in an earlier piece that Michael Cohen could end up being Trump's Monica Lewinski. That now seems a given. What none of us saw coming was that Rudy Giuliani would end up playing Brutus to George Conway's Mark Antony.

As Shakespeare would say, "Oh death where is thy sting?"