Sunday, July 29, 2018

Allen Weisselberg's Testimony Could Put the Final Nail In Trump's Coffin

Over the past week, there have been three major news stories that have involved Donald Trump that if proven true could be deeply damaging to his presidency. The first two concern leaks by Michael Cohen through his attorney Lanny Davis that 1. Trump knew about and authorized payment to AMI, the company that owns The National Inquirer, as compensation for buying the rights to a story about an affair he had with Playboy playmate Karen McDougal; and 2. Trump knew about the meeting his son had with a Russian operative to get "dirt" on Hillary Clinton prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Regarding the first story, Trump's exposure comes down to whether Robert Mueller can make a case that campaign finance laws had been violated. If so, it might be nothing more than a substantial fine. If anything, Cohen might end up worse for the wear. He was the one who set up the shell company that was used to pay off Stormy Daniels and AMI and, as a result, could be disbarred, whether he gets indicted or not. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Davis released it since it incriminates his client as much as, if not more so, than Trump.

The second story comes down to a he said / he said argument. And while Trump is someone who is a known pathological liar, it's not like Cohen is Mother Teresa. Unless there's a tape out there that Mueller can use as evidence of collusion, I don't see this as anything more than just more fodder for the talking heads on cable news.

But the third story is, to put it in Trumpian verbiage, YUGE! That was the revelation that long-time accountant and CFO of the Trump Organization Allen Weisselberg has been called to testify before the Grand Jury in the Michael Cohen case. Why is this significant? One, because Cohen mentioned him by name in the tape Davis leaked; and two, as CFO, he knows everything there is to know about Trump and his business dealings.

In other words, Weisselberg will be able to provide the missing pieces of the puzzle that Robert Mueller is assembling in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. As I have stated on several occasions, the real jeopardy for Trump isn't so much collusion, which I will stipulate is a very difficult case to prove, but rather where and whom he gets his money from. In short, if Mueller can make the case that the source of Trump's income is Russian oligarchs, that is what they refer to in tennis parlance as game, set and match.

That's why he's been trying to shut down this investigation. Not because he's worried that admitting Russia interfered with our electoral process would undermine his legitimacy as president. Hell, it didn't bother George Bush one bit that the Supreme Court's intervention in 2000 gave him the presidency. No, the real reason he's paranoid is because the longer this investigation goes on the more likely it is that the world will find out what many of us already suspect: that Putin owns him.

Think about it. In Trump's narrow view of the world, everything he does revolves around enriching himself. He originally ran for president believing he would lose to Hillary and then start his own conservative cable news network that would make him a ton of money. Winning screwed all that up, insomuch as it put his entire life under a microscope. If Mueller can prove he's in bed with the Russians all his plans go out the window. He's ruined financially. Indeed, he would be a pariah. Even Fox News would abandon him.

I suspect Mueller already has all of Trump's tax returns going back at least a decade. He also has access to financial records of the Trump organization. What he needs from Weisselberg is corroboration to connect the dots. If he gets it, Mueller may not need Trump to testify before the Grand Jury. In fact, if after Weisselberg's testimony, Trump's legal team ends up getting a notice that their "client" doesn't have to appear before the Grand Jury, that would be a bad sign for Trump. It means that Mueller is close to issuing his report, and that report will likely recommend either an indictment, impeachment or both.

In my opinion we are now in the final stages of the Russia investigation. No doubt a few more indictments are forthcoming. Whether any of them will involve Trump and / or his family remains to be seen.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why Katrina vanden Heuvel Is Wrong About the Helsinki Summit

A few days ago, Katrina vanden Heuvel, senior editor and publisher of The Nation, wrote an op-ed for that magazine, in which she makes the case for "parsing the inane from the sensible in what the president said" at the Helsinki summit last week.

I should point out I have been a fan of vanden Heuvel for years and consider her to be a very lucid and thoughtful, if somewhat provocative, writer. She has a nasty habit of making progressives look before they leap to judgment; a trait I wish more progressive writers would adopt. But referring to anything that came out of this summit as "sensible" strains the bounds of credibility.

To be fair, vanden Heuvel starts off by acknowledging Trump's "manic defensiveness about the legitimacy of his election" and the "serial lying" that has come to define his administration. Indeed, she is not blind to what he and his fellow Republicans have done and continue to do to the country. But it's not her critique of Trump that I take issue with; it's her implication - shared by more than just a few progressives and an overwhelming majority of libertarians - that the United States must share the blame for the current state of relations between both countries that is most troubling. She writes,
Although he was widely reviled for it, Trump is also not wrong to say that both powers have contributed to the deteriorating relations. Leaders of the US national-security establishment protest our country’s innocence regarding the tensions in Georgia and Ukraine. But it was perhaps the wisest of them, the eminent diplomat George Kennan, who warned in 1998 that the decision to extend NATO to Russia’s borders was a “tragic mistake” that would eventually provoke a hostile response. “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” Kennan said presciently. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.”
First off, the jury is still out as to whether NATO's expansion eastward was the motivating factor for Russian aggression. In an interview she did for 60 Minutes back in January, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-cheif of RT, said it was the decision to bomb then Yugoslavia in 1999 that was the turning point in U.S. - Russian relations. According to her, "That was when you lost us."

Now there's no way of knowing whether even that is accurate. Simonyan is, after all, 38 years old. That would've made her 19 at the time of the U.S. intervention. I seriously doubt that she was as plugged into events happening just outside her country as she is now. What is more likely is that she has been conditioned to accept that narrative as fact, like a majority of her fellow citizens and, sadly, many progressives in this country. They still hold on to the notion that it was Western expansion that provoked Eastern retaliatory responses, when in fact history shows the exact opposite.

The truth, I suspect, has more to do with Vladimir Putin's desire to reconstruct the old Soviet empire he knew as a KGB agent than with any increased influence of NATO or our intervention into what was widely and rightly viewed by the global community as a war of genocide. And that is why both George W. Bush and Barack Obama badly misread and greatly underestimated him in their negotiations. And also why Trump is foolishly following in their footsteps.

Let's set aside for the moment the discussion of whether you believe Trump is guilty of treason - as I wrote in my last piece, he is. Let's also set aside his insistence that the whole Russia investigation is a witch hunt. For an American president to stand on the same stage as a Russian president and even hint that both sides are equally to blame - stupid was the word Trump used - is insulting and belies the facts, whether you're a progressive, conservative, libertarian or Romulan.

As to the other point vanden Heuvel makes in her piece - the "common stakes" both countries have in "reducing tensions" - I would agree with her, to a point. However, the manner in which Trump broached the subject - from weakness rather than strength - is anathema to any successful discussion along those lines. It would be analogous to the victim of a house burglary reaching out to the burglar to help him design a home security system.

God help me for saying this, but in the last 70 years of dealing with the Russians, only one American president has had the right approach. That was Ronald Reagan. As much as it kills me to admit, Reagan's tough stance on what he called the "Evil Empire," forced Moscow to the negotiating table. His meetings with then Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev helped paved the way for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.  While the Left was critical of Reagan's rhetoric - many calling it reckless and hyperbolic - in hindsight he was proven right.

The simple fact is that the only way to negotiate with Russia historically has been through strength. Anything less than that is viewed by them as capitulation. Right now in Moscow, Putin and his supporters must be grinning from ear to ear. They could scarcely have imagined a better outcome than what transpired in Helsinki. Think about it: Putin got the satisfaction of being able to paint his country as the moral equivalent of the United States. Like Kim Jong Un earlier in the year, a dictator went toe to toe with our president and came out the clear winner. Reagan must be spinning in his grave at the mere spectacle.

Look, I am not against the idea of both countries working together to reduce global tensions. No sane person wants a scenario in which the two countries that possess 90 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal find themselves in another Cuban Missile Crisis. But what happened in Helsinki was a hostage takeover, pure and simple. Putin barked and Trump bowed. Just look at the body language of both men and you tell me who you think had the better day.

International diplomacy is one of the essential job requirements of any world leader. It demands rigorous discipline and intense preparation; the exact opposite of what we saw last Monday. What we got instead was one president who was at the top of his game while the other was clearly in over his head.

I'll give you one guess which one Trump was.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Yes, Trump Committed Treason

This is what Title 18, Part I, Chapter 115 of the United States Code has to say about treason.

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Based on the above definition, Donald Trump has committed treason. Here's why.

The President of the United States is the chief executive of the country and commander in chief of the armed forces. He or she is sworn to defend the Constitution against all threats, foreign and domestic. 

Russia is not only a threat to this country, it has proven itself to be a hostile actor in the international community, and its leader, Vladimir Putin, has authorized the meddling of not only our elections but the elections of several European countries. Our intelligence community has not only verified this, our Justice Department has handed down 12 indictments against Russian agents working for the GRU. Furthermore, our intelligence community has issued a warning that Russia's efforts to interfere with our elections will continue into the midterms and perhaps even into the 2020 presidential election.

This attack on our democracy was and continues to be an act of war. True, it was not as horrific or deadly as the attacks on 9/11, but in every other way, it was just as damaging. In fact, I would argue, it was more so. 9/11 brought us together as a country. This attack deeply divided us, which was precisely what Putin was hoping for when he authorized it. Destabilization of the West is his ultimate goal.

Make no mistake about it. Trump stood next to the man who attacked this country and not only gave him aid and comfort, he threw his own intelligence community under the bus and entertained the insulting proposition of handing over some of our people to be interrogated by Putin's operatives. Can you imagine George Bush giving Osama bin Laden the chance to question the survivors of the World Trade Center? Or FDR allowing Hirohito a crack at Pearl Harbor Navy personnel?

Trump's apologists have argued that all he was trying to do, clumsily, was foster a working relationship with a major player in the world that could help us in Syria and perhaps North Korea. What good would it do to show up in Helsinki and be accusatory?

I would counter that is precisely what a commander in chief is supposed to do. First you defend your country, then you look for areas of common interest. For someone who ran on an America First platform, when it comes to Russia, Trump has been anything but. As I stated in an earlier piece, he looks like "someone who has a great deal to fear."

This is an act of treason if ever there was one. I know there are people on both sides of the political aisle who are reluctant to go there. They prefer to chalk this up as just another one of his myriad idiosyncrasies.

I say bullshit, and here's why.

He called Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man," he referred to NATO as obsolete, he has attacked members of the press and tried the patience of our allies with his recklessness. He's as delicate as a bull in a china shop and just as charming. He's done maybe ten decent things in his whole life, and we're supposed to believe that this uncharacteristic display of affection towards a ruthless dictator was due to his sudden concern about diplomacy? He couldn't spell the word diplomacy if it was written on the forehead of his flunky Mike Pence.

No, this had nothing to do with diplomacy. Nor was it a negotiating tactic. Putin has something on him. Donald Trump is the most transparent man ever to enter politics; if he ever decided to play poker, he'd be filing for another bankruptcy. The man was cowed up on that stage and everyone knew it. His minions may have given him a mulligan, but for the rest of the world, the jig was up. If there were any doubts as to Trump's collusion, they were dashed on Monday.  Putin owns him, lock, stock and barrel.

And now this owned man is planning another meeting with his master, this time at the White House, of all places. Great, we can role out the red carpet, fly the Russian flag and the army can play the Russian national anthem. Hey, if you're going to sell out the country, why not go the extra mile? And keep in mind, we still don't know what happened behind closed doors at that first meeting. For all we know, Trump may have agreed to withdraw U.S. troops from Europe. Yes, he would do that.

I am not being hyperbolic when I say Trump has committed treason. Those of you who've read my blog over the years know full well that I am not given to hysteria. If anything, I've often taken positions that have rubbed more than a few progressives the wrong way. It has been my desired goal to try as best I can to keep emotion out of the equation whenever possible, sometimes to a fault. I am proud of the title "pragmatic progressive," even if at times it seemed an oxymoron. But this is different. What this man represents shakes me to my core and I refuse to be silent.

I know full well the implication of the charge that I am making, and I stand by it one hundred percent. We have a deeply compromised president in the Oval Office who is owned by Vladimir Putin, a man who has attacked this country and represents an ongoing threat to every western democracy. Trump has given aid and comfort to that man. That makes him a traitor. No other conclusion is possible or believable. Pundits have been scratching their heads over the last few days trying to come up with a plausible explanation for his conduct in Helsinki. They should quit while they're behind; the answer is right there in front of their noses.

It was that old sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, who once coined the phrase, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." It's a practical impossibility that a sitting president could be a traitor because we've never had one in our history, so we can't wrap our heads around such a concept. But while it may be improbable, it is, nonetheless, the sad and ghastly truth. To deny it would only add insult to the injury he has already perpetrated on this nation and its people.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What This Congress Could Do To Thwart Trump

I realize, given the current state of the Republican Party, this is wishful thinking on my part, but sometimes wishful thinking is all you've got. So, in no particular order, here is a list of things this Congress could do to thwart what this president has done, or might do.

A presidential censure. No it's not nearly as gratifying as an actual impeachment, but it sends a clear and unambiguous message to Trump and the world. You embarrass this country, there's hell to pay. The last president to be censured was Andrew Jackson in 1834. I guess you could say we're overdue.

A bill to protect both Mueller and Rosenstein. It's clear that Robert Mueller is close to indicting Americans in the Russia investigation and some of them might be very close to this president. When that happens, the likelihood is that he will fire Rod Rosenstein and then appoint a replacement to fire Mueller. Congress can stop him in his tracks.

Subpoena Trump's tax returns. It's clear he's hiding something. The excuse that he can't release his returns because he's under audit is absurd. The real reason has to do with what's in those returns. The only way we'll know is if they're subpoenaed and released. My guess is once that happens, the whole world will know that the main source of this man's income is from Russian oligarchs, which not only makes him compromised as a president, but a traitor to the country.

Draft a bipartisan letter to Putin assuring him that all sanctions will remain in place. During the Obama Administration, several Republicans senators sent a letter to the leaders of Iran warning them that the deal they had entered into with the United States and several other countries to free up assets would not be honored in the event a future administration decided to walk away from it. Now would be a good time for a show of bipartisan support to let Putin know that regardless of whatever "deal" he and Trump may have agreed to in Helsinki that Congress has the final say.

Suspend all judicial appointments until the Mueller probe is concluded. No president who is the subject of a criminal investigation should be allowed to appoint judges to the bench. He may fill cabinet vacancies, but that's it. The idea that a potential Supreme Court justice could be the deciding vote in a criminal proceeding against the president who appointed him is the very definition of a conflict of interest. Once Mueller has released his report, and assuming that report exonerates Trump, then he can appoint all the judges he wants.

Demand that any future meetings Trump has with foreign leaders include at least one cabinet member to be in attendance, and that cabinet member must, under oath, testify before Congress as to what was discussed. The problem with the Helsinki summit wasn't so much Trump's embarrassing press conference, it's what may have been said in private to Putin. We have no way of knowing what shit-for-brains may have agreed to because the only people present in the room, apart from both leaders, were the interpreters. There may not even be a transcript of the discussion. That can never happen again.

Issue a joint statement reaffirming our commitment to NATO.  And along with that statement, both houses could pass a bill requiring that any changes in troop strength or funding for the alliance be approved by a two-thirds majority in both chambers. Just in case Trump has any plans to cede Europe to Putin, this would preempt them. Even if it isn't legally binding, it's better than watching this screwball play with Europe like he's playing a game of RISK.

Take away his ability to impose tariffs as long as he's in office. Thanks to the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the president has the authority to impose trade tariffs through executive order. But Congress could rescind that authority by passing another bill with a veto-proof majority requiring that any proposed tariffs would need to get Congressional approval before being imposed.

Pass legislation requiring Congressional authority to launch nuclear weapons. While this may be last on the list, it is hardly least. And given his rhetoric towards North Korea and just about anyone else that sets him off - Canada, Mexico, China, Europe, Antarctica, etc... - this should be a no-brainer. It's nothing short of an embarrassment to acknowledge that you can't trust your own president with the nuclear football, but it's a helluva lot better than letting Dr. Strangelove start World War III.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Treason in Helsinki

Just so we're clear: no one should be in the least bit surprised at what happened Monday in Helsinki. Those who held out hope that this president, after berating our NATO allies and undercutting the Prime Minister of Great Britain only days earlier, would somehow defend the United States against a hostile adversary like Vladimir Putin, are either in denial or dangerously naive.

Ruth Marcus called on everyone who currently works for this president to quit "now." With all due respect to Ruth, the time for doing that has long since come and gone. If watching this man make fun of a disabled reporter, ridiculing the parents of a gold-star service man, referring to Mexicans as rapists and calling the free press the enemy of the people wasn't enough of an incentive for them to quit than nothing that happened this Monday will shame them into resigning. You can't lose your soul if you never had one to begin with.

What happened in Helsinki was nothing short of alarming. We watched in horror as a sitting president humiliated himself on the world stage, standing alongside the man who was responsible for interferring with, and most likely deciding the winner of, the 2016 presidential election. The editorial board of The Washington Post was correct when it said Donald Trump openly colluded with Russia through his words.

There can be no other explanation for this inexplicable behavior. How else can you explain why he would once again take the word of Putin over his own intelligence community? That was insulting enough, but then he one-up'd the ante by giving serious consideration to an invitation by Putin to have Robert Mueller's team travel to Russia to interview the twelve defendants recently indicted by Rod Rosenstein with Russian investigators present. The mere suggestion that both Justice departments are on equal footing is a slap in the face to every law enforcement official in the country.

This isn't merely the machinations of an insecure man who can't handle the notion that a foreign entity may have helped him win the presidency; it's evidence of someone who has a great deal to fear from that entity and is doing everything possible to bend over backwards so that the truth doesn't come out. Just look at the body language of both men. On one hand, we had Putin, who at times seemed to be smirking over his good fortune; on the other, we had Trump, who often looked down and was submissive in his tone. And this from a man who has spent his entire life destroying anyone or anything that got in his way.

What more evidence do we need to conclude that this man is compromised as a president? What does he have to do, order Borsht and a vodka martini? We're told that words like treason are irresponsible and over the top. Really? What else would you call a man who colludes with a dictator who has been actively engaged in undermining every Democracy in the West, including ours? I mean, Putin stood right next to him and admitted his wrong doing, and still he couldn't bring himself to condemn him. Benedict Arnold did less harm and was branded a traitor for his actions. We should stop pussyfooting with Trump.

His enablers are running out of excuses, and his co-conspirators are running out of time. Christ, even Fox News called him out. It's time for what's left of the Republican Party to take a stand while there's still time. And by Republican Party, I don't mean the few "brave" souls, like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who've decided to run for the hills, or John McCain, who's dying of cancer and who may have only a precious few months to live. I'm talking about the whole damn GOP. Compared to what this man is doing to this nation, Nixon was Florence Nightingale.

If this were Hillary Clinton throwing her own Justice Department under the bus, she'd have been impeached before Air Force One touched down at Andrews Air Force base. Obama bowed to a foreign leader and Republicans lost their shit over it. What does it take for these miserable hacks to put country before party? I mean they've got Mike Pence in the bullpen. What else do they need? Balls, I suppose.

And therein lies the problem. They're scared shitless of Trump. What Putin has done to him, he's done to the GOP. I've never seen such an epic lay down in all my life. Professional wrestlers put on a more convincing performance getting pinned to the mat than Republicans manage to pull off objecting to Trump's behavior. Compared to them, the movie "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" might as well be fucking "Gone With the Wind."

I have never been so ashamed to be an American as I am at this very moment. The world is laughing at us while the Manchurian candidate that Putin installed shits all over the Constitution, all with the blessing of his own party and the ignorant fools who blindly voted for him.

Our only hope is the midterms. If Democrats don't at least retake the House, it may be too late to stop Trump in 2020. He already has amassed 80 million dollars for his reelection bid. If he wins another term in office, this slow-moving coup will be complete and the Republic that was founded more than two centuries ago will cease to exist.

Rachel Maddow summed it up best. "Usually when there's a national security crisis, we look to the president to lead us. This time the national security crisis IS the president."

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Some Encouraging News for Democrats

I know I've been a little hard on Democrats lately; no this is NOT an apology. But I believe in being fair. Despite my criticisms of party leadership, there is some encouraging news to report and it has to do with the polling, which is quite good if you're a Democrat.

Going into the weekend, the RCP generic Congressional ballot shows Dems up by 8.2 percentage points; the highest they've been since March, and up considerably from a low of 3.2 percent on June 1. Even Rasmussen, which is more a Republican ad agency than a polling firm, has them up 8 points. In fact, if you go all the way back to when Trump was sworn in, Dems have never trailed in this poll. The last time that happened was 2006, when they took both houses of Congress. That year they finished at a plus 7.9 percent on election day, good enough to net 31 House seats and 6 Senate seats.

Then there's Trump's approval rating, which is still around 43 percent. How bad is that? When Republicans took the House in 2009, Barack Obama was polling around 45 percent going into November. In 2014, when they took the Senate, it was a paltry 42 percent. When Democrats took control of Congress in '06, George Bush was polling at 39 percent. The moral of the story is that unpopular presidents are costly for their parties.

But the good news doesn't end just with the generic ballot and Trump's dismal approval numbers. Take a gander at the Right Track / Wrong Track numbers. As of this writing, it stands at 39 / 54 - or plus 15 percent for the wrong track. Put succinctly, when voters still think the country is headed in the wrong direction - even with an economy as strong as this - that spells trouble for the party in power. It means that Trump and the GOP aren't getting any of the credit they would otherwise be entitled to.

Then there are the Senate races, where Democrats are fairing better than many pundits thought they would. In Arizona, Democrat Krysten Sinema is leading her likely Republican opponent Martha McSally by 7.4 percent. I say likely, because the GOP primary still hasn't been held and McSally has a 9 point lead over her opponents, which includes Joe - I just got a pardon from Trump - Arpaio. In Nevada, the latest polling shows Democrat Jacky Rosen ahead of Republican Dean - flip flop - Heller by 4 points.

Both these races have two things in common: One, both seats are currently held by Republicans; and two, the Democrat running in each just happens to be a woman. In fact, if you look closely, the percentage of women running for political office in 2018 is up considerably from prior elections. According to CNN, it's the highest percentage - 22 - since they started tracking it in 1990. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Me-Too movement ends up being the undoing of the party that continues to enable a sexual predator in the White House?

If Democrats can flip both seats and hold onto all of theirs, they would retake the Senate. While that may be a tall order, consider this: not one Democrat is trailing by more than the margin of error in the all crucial Trump states, and several, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, are ahead in their races. Brown is currently crushing his opponent by 15 points.

Look, I'm not saying it's a done deal that Democrats take back the House AND the Senate. There are still almost four months left before the midterms. Anything can happen. But these poll numbers are evidence that voters are not too happy with the GOP and the dictator in chief. Historically, when the party in power is doing this poorly this far out from an election, things tend to go badly for that party.

And if you're looking for something to hang your hat on, that's a pretty good place to start.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It's Time for Democrats To Stop Being Victims

Now that Sir Laughalot has revealed his choice to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court, the battle lines have been drawn. Progressives and conservatives are prepared to go to the mat over this nomination. Make no mistake about it, the stakes couldn't be higher, especially for the former who are now faced with the very real prospect that the last 60 years of jurisprudence from Brown v. Board of Education to what's left of the Voting Rights Act to Roe v. Wade to Obergefell v. Hodges to National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius is in jeopardy of being overturned.

And as if that wasn't enough incentive for Democrats, it turns out the prized nominee wrote a law review paper back in 2009 about how sitting presidents couldn't be indicted and that it was up to Congress to protect them. I know shit-for-brains can't read, so I imagine his lawyers must've read it to him. Talk about your get out of jail free card.

Chuck Schumer has to do everything in his power to make sure Brett Kavanaugh doesn't get confirmed. There's just one problem: Schumer doesn't have much power to do anything apart from galvanizing support and delivering a few impassioned speeches on the floor of the Senate. Face it, Mitch McConnell has the 50 votes he needs within his caucus without a single Democrat crossing party lines. You can forget about the so-called moderates, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. They voted for Gorsuch last year; don't think for a moment that when push comes to shove they won't do the same for Kavanaugh.

And for those of you who are clinging to the notion that somehow, once confirmed, Kavanaugh will "evolve" into his own man, like Earl Warren did after being nominated by Dwight Eisenhower, you can stop holding your breath. The Federalist Society personally vetted every one of the judges Donnie boy had on his list. The closest any of these characters has ever come to the word swing was when they played a Benny Goodman record. The Right is through being surprised by the likes of an Anthony Kennedy or John Roberts.

It's time to admit a painful truth. When it comes to working the system and turning out their base, conservatives are just better at it than liberals. Shit, we can't even agree on how we got into this mess. Just recently, I got into a back and forth about how the Merrick Garland nomination was a strategic blunder for Barack Obama. Obama was hoping Republicans would allow Garland, an otherwise reasonable and respectable judge, to at least get an up or down vote. Instead, McConnell stalled for eight months until after the election, when Trump was allowed to pick his own nominee.

I argued that Obama should've known, based on past performances, that his pick wouldn't get confirmed, so he should've nominated a more progressive judge to rile up his base. Maybe if he had, a few more progressives might've voted and we wouldn't be face to face with a Constitutional crisis in the making.

Well you would've thought I shot someone. Granted it was only two people, but the response was hardly reassuring. It seems any criticism directed at Obama is the product of "Monday morning quarterbacking." The man can do no wrong, I guess, even though the facts say otherwise.

Look, I respect Obama and believe he did an outstanding job while in office. No president in modern times has had to deal with both a collapsing economy and an entire political party out to get him. And he handled both with a grace and a dignity this president couldn't begin to appreciate, much less emulate. But walk on water he didn't.

For all his talents, Obama had two glaring shortcomings. First, he was an incurable optimist. His pursuit of other people's better angels was laudable, but hardly conducive to a successful career in politics. It's one thing to want to be the adult in the classroom; it's quite another to let the kids throw spit balls at you all day. The second had to do with his negotiating style. In short it sucked. You don't start in the middle then hope for your opponents to come around. It doesn't work like that. You start at your end and then work your way towards the middle. Countless times Obama would seek consensus on policy before getting all his ducks lined up. This allowed McConnell and the GOP to define the ground rules and move the goalposts further and further to the right.

It was the combination of his lack of negotiating prowess and his inability to accurately see his opponents for who and what they were that led to the stimulus being too small, the healthcare law being a mishmash of conservative ideals that they would later reject, and I'm quite certain his decision to go with Garland when another Democrat would've chosen a more progressive judge.

And, yes, I understand it wasn't all Obama's fault. Some of the blame has to go to Hillary Clinton, who could've released her own list of Supreme Court nominees that might've motivated progressives to show up at the polls. Who knows, maybe she could've said to McConnell, you might as well confirm Obama's pick, because when I get elected, I'm gonna choose someone like Ginsburg. Maybe if she had, McConnell might've caved.

The point is she didn't, and neither did Obama. They went small and McConnell and the Republicans went big. And for the last eighteen months all we've heard from Democrats and progressives is how the big, bad GOP stole Merrick Garland's seat on the bench, like it had his fucking name on it or something. It's one thing to say, "When they go low, we go high." It's quite another to bend over and say, "Thank you, sir, may I have another."

At what point are Democrats going to stop being victims and take responsibility for their own mistakes. It was a mistake to nominate a presidential candidate who had more baggage than a Southwest Airlines jet bound for San Diego. It was a mistake for them to filibuster Gorsuch last year when everyone and their mother knew McConnell would go nuclear to get him confirmed. And it is a mistake now for Democrats, especially progressives, to blame the Right for their own lack of intensity when it comes to voting. Elections have consequences and an awful lot of people are about to find out just how severe some of them will be.

Whining about what a hypocrite McConnell is when it comes to Supreme Court nominees getting a vote in an election year won't stop Kavanaugh from being confirmed. The last politician with an ounce of integrity in this country chopped down a cherry tree in the eighteenth century. If you're expecting an elected official to play by the rules, I've got some beachfront property in Fukushima, Japan I'd like to sell you. It even comes with its own glow in the dark helmet. You don't sit out two consecutive elections and then have the balls to complain about the other side's tactics. Hey, the other side showed up to vote while you sat home and jerked off. Put that in your pipe and inhale it.

The fact is I'm getting pissed off watching my side get taken to the cleaners year after year after year. It's like watching the same Mets game over and over again. I'd call us a bunch of pussies but I'm afraid Trump would start groping us. Now some progressives are actually saying they want Red-state Democrats to vote against Kavanaugh even with no chance of stopping him. Those who don't will face their wrath come November.  Right, because nothing says you're serious about winning like jumping off a cliff.

It's time to man up, or woman up if you prefer. All of us, collectively, need to take responsibility for the position we're in. And that starts by admitting that nobody did this to us; we did it to ourselves. Nine years ago, Democrats controlled virtually everything in this country from the White House down to a majority of state houses and legislatures. The Republicans were a party on the run. Take a good look, boys and girls, the tables have turned. Yes, thanks to Trump, we have the wind at our backs this midterm election. But banking on this president's incompetence won't be enough. We need people with a vision and the courage to carry it out.

One thing conservatives do that I envy is that they fight for what they believe in. I may disagree with their beliefs, but I can't question their convictions. And they are motivated like nobody's business. Every conservative voter knew what was at stake in 2016. The moment Antonin Scalia keeled over, their one overriding concern was preventing Hillary from nominating his replacement. Trump drove that point home countless times throughout the campaign. I never heard the desperation once from our side. Not once. You can't blame Mitch McConnell for that.

Another thing conservatives do better - though not always - is that they get in line and support their candidate, even the ones they're lukewarm about. Despite what the wing nuts on the AM radio dial keep saying, Republican turnout has been pretty consistent from election to election. The variable has been Democratic turnout. In short, one side bites down hard and swallows, while the other bitches and moans and listens to people like Susan Sarandon. Hey libs, I've got news for you: Sarandon and her husband, Tim Robbins, are doing just fine, thank you. No matter what this maniac in the White House does they and their Hollywood brethren will land on their feet. I doubt many who took her advice will be able to say the same.

Were you paying attention to what went on over at the NATO summit? Did you watch this disgrace of a president behave like your drunk uncle at a barbecue in front of our allies? How does it feel knowing you had a hand in this embarrassment? Every time you repeated the lie that Hillary was just as corrupt as Trump, you became complicit in the greatest con game ever perpetrated on this nation. At least the gullible saps who went to his rallies have an excuse: they were too dumb and ignorant to know any better. You? You knew perfectly well what you were doing. Well I hope you and your self-righteousness are satisfied with the results. While Rome burns before your very eyes, you fiddle away, oblivious to your crime. Remember, millions died so you could vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.

There is a way out of this nightmare, but it starts with the acceptance that the enemy is not our opponents, but our own arrogance and indifference. If we do indeed outnumber Republicans, we need to prove it every single election. We need to stop looking for the perfect candidate; they don't exist. Doug Jones and Connor Lamb are not liberals. That's okay; they don't have to be. You can still vote for them. In fact, this November, more than one-third of Democrats running for office will not be liberals. They need your support anyway.

Getting involved means more than just shouting at someone at a restaurant or showing up at a protest march. All of us need to make our voices heard loud and clear this November at the ballot box where it will count the most. If you want to stop this president from destroying this country, don't sit back and wait for Robert Mueller to issue a report.

In her song "Stop Your Sobbing," Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders wrote the following:

There's one thing you gotta do
To make me still want you
Gotta stop sobbing now

It's not only time to stop sobbing, it's time to stop being a victim.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Ezra Klein Is Right About Trump

It's rare indeed that I find myself in lockstep agreement with any one journalist, but after giving the matter considerable thought, Ezra Klein has nailed it on the head. And what is the "it" Klein has nailed on the head? Basically, that the media has become Donald Trump's "assignment editor."

In an interview he did with Brian Stelter on CNN, Klein pointed out that there's no requirement for the media to grant "wall-to-wall coverage" to Trump every time he holds a rally. Not when past presidents rarely got that kind of attention.
"What are we crowding out when we let him decide what we cover, every time he does a rally? What would have happened in another administration? How long of a story would Scott Pruitt have been? How long of a story would Bill Shine have been? How much information is encoded in those few stories?
"I do think there's a question of, does the public know what the government is actually doing as well as they know what Donald Trump is saying, but often not doing. Does the public know what is happening in the regulatory agencies? Does the public know what has happened to the Affordable Care Act?"
Klein's basic argument comes down to this: while the media is focused on Trump's antics and rhetoric, it is ignoring the real news, which is frightening. And that is precisely what Trump wants. He has become a master in the art of deflection and distraction, and the media has become his unwitting accomplice.

Of course none of this is new. As far back as three years ago, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown urged her former colleagues to, if not pull the plug on Trump, then to at least give him a time out. Unfortunately, they didn't take her advice. Like a heroin addict, they needed him as much as he needed them.

So now we have a reality-based president who holds rallies that are little more than infomercials disguised as news events. Trump cries wolf and the microphones and cameras are there to record his every utterance as if it's the fucking moon landing. And all the while, the pundits trip over themselves debating not the consequences of his disastrous polices, but whether his poll numbers will crater based on the latest outlandish statement that came out of his mouth, not quite realizing that the mere discussion of that outlandish statement was inadvertently helping those very same poll numbers.

Irony doth have a funny way of rearing its ugly head.

But there is one silver lining in this three-ring circus that Trump has created. He doesn't seem to be enjoying the fruits of his labor as much as he'd like us to believe; certainly not as much as his predecessors did. Klein writes in Vox,
Judged on the economy, which is the traditional driver of presidential approval, Donald Trump’s poll numbers should be much, much higher than they are now. Far from finding a winning strategy, he seems to have found a losing one despite holding a winning hand.
What that reveals is that, apart from his core supporters, Trump's act is wearing thin on a lot of people who would otherwise be predisposed to give him credit for a healthy economy. And the data backs this up. The Congressional generic polling, after narrowing to a slim 3.2 percent edge for Democrats five weeks ago, is now back up to a much healthier 7.2 percent advantage; Trump's overall approval rating in the RCP polling average is hovering around 43 percent, even with Rasmussen factored in; and the Right Track / Wrong Track is currently at a negative 13 percent, a bad sign for Republicans this fall.

The bottom line is this: the media needs to ignore the smoke and mirrors and concentrate on reporting the news. If Trump insists on throwing a curve ball, let him dig up Johnny Bench to catch it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Hey Dems, Want To Beat Trump? Here's How

Ok, so here we are. Almost 18 months into the presidency from hell and one thing is for certain. Those who hate Donald Trump, really hate him; and those who love him, for some strange reason continue to love him. The electorate has never been so divided or polarized as it's been since he took office.

I'm not about to spend even a microsecond analyzing how anyone could like, much less love, this president. I neither have the patience, nor the psychological training to tackle that subject. But I do want to take a few minutes and talk to those of you whose loathing for this man holds no bounds.

I get it. He's an embarrassment to the country like nothing we've ever witnessed before. Next to him, Bush was Dwight Eisenhower, yada, yada, yada. You want him out of office; well, so do I. The question is how.

For the moment, let's take the Russia investigation off the table. We have no way of knowing what Robert Mueller will find or when he will release his report. And as I've mentioned about nine thousand times, there's no way Republicans will vote to impeach him; and even if Democrats take the House this year, they won't have the 67 votes necessary to convict him in the Senate. Face it, Trump will serve out his full term in office. The only question is whether he gets reelected in 2020.

So let's concentrate on how we can make him a one-term president. I've been giving the matter a great deal of thought and have come up wth three things that Democrats and progressives can do that if executed properly will all but guarantee a Democrat will be in the White House come 2021.

Number One: Avoid unnecessary distractions. I cannot empathize enough just how unproductive it is paying attention to the plethora of bullshit that comes from this man's Twitter feed. It's like watching someone with Turrets syndrome trying to communicate. Look, we all know he has the impulse control of a four-year old; that doesn't mean we're required to respond to every one of those impulses. Recently, he was taken to task for using the incorrect spelling of a word in a tweet where he bragged about his prowess as a writer. I don't give a shit whether he can spell or read! The question is why would you or anyone else care? Here's a helpful hint: ignore his tweets and you'll drive him up the wall; paying attention to them only feeds his already massive ego. Just think spoiled brat desperately in need of a time out, only bigger and much older.

Also, under the heading of unnecessary distractions, stop with the protests at restaurants already; it isn't working. The ten seconds of satisfaction that you get from screaming at someone while they're eating isn't worth the negative optics it generates among the voters who we are counting on to give us the House this November and whose vote in 2020 will determine who the next president will be. Besides, do you really think you're going to shame Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Her father is Mike Huckabee and she works for Trump. If she hasn't jumped off a bridge by now, she isn't going to. Face it, these people are impervious to your slights; if anything, like the Orange menace in the Oval Office, it only emboldens them. Let them have their meal in peace; trust me, history will have its way with them in the long run.

In my last piece I wrote that it was a mistake to call Trump stupid. If anything, he's the political equivalent of a genius. And he knows exactly what he's doing and why. Just look at his tweets. He's managed to run us ragged keeping up with his verbal diarrhea. We have to stop making it so easy for him.

Number Two: It's about the policy, stupid. While all of you were preoccupied wth Lord Fauntleroy's pour grammar - get it? - this little tidbit appeared in Politico. "Republican lawmakers are losing their patience with the president’s trade war, saying it’s hurting their states and the party’s chances in the midterms."

You know what they call this in political terminology, boys and girls? They call it a winning campaign issue. And right now, Dems need anything they can hang their hats on going into the fall. The tariffs that Trump is imposing on foreign-made products will not only hurt consumers at the cash register, it will cost potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs, most of them in GOP-held districts and states. That's why Republicans are shitting their pants. They know what's at stake.

Then there's the tax law, which for some strange reason Republicans aren't even running on. Want to know why? Because they know what every first-year accountant knows: 1. It isn't having the economic impact they thought it would [no shit, Sherlock, most of the benefits went to the top one percent and to corporations who used the money to buy back stock]; and 2. When voters file their income taxes in 2019, a good percentage of them are going to figure out how badly they got fucked. Put succinctly, if you're married, with two or more kids and you own a home, you might want to bend over and start coughing now. It'll be less painful then waiting till next April.

Dems need to drive both these points home every chance they get, not go off on these stupid-assed tangents that may resonate with the base, but have little impact among others within the party. And speaking of others within the party.

Number Three: Bury the hatchet. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, Democrats dreamed of being a big-tent party. Of course, there was only one small problem: not every one under the tent was dreaming the same dream. Some were liberals, while some were centrists, or what we used to call Blue Dogs. Today, most of the Blue Dog Democrats, like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are gone. A few remain, but don't have much of a voice in the party platform. In the last presidential election, the DNC all but caved to the Bernie wing of the party. Since the election of Barack Obama in '08, Democrats have moved considerably to the left. The party of Bill Clinton is all but extinct.

Some of that was due to changing demographics within the various constituencies. We saw that play out in the New York 14th. Long-time Congressman Joe Crowley lost to 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a district that was almost 50 percent Hispanic. The question wasn't how did Crowley lose, but, rather, why did it take so long?

But while New York's 14th Congressional district finally has a candidate that is representative of its actual population, not all is hunky dory in Demland, where a growing number of progressives are still obsessed with the one-size fits all approach to governing. As I wrote in an earlier piece regarding the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy, party leadership must do everything in its power to prevent Trump and the Republicans from appointing another nominee to the bench. "Any attempt to soft pedal the process and acquiesce to the 'political realities' of the Senate could have disastrous consequences for Dems this November."

But as I also pointed out, Red-state Democrats like Joe Manchin and Jon Tester will likely cross party lines and vote to confirm the pick. That's where things could get personal. And that's where party leadership will have its greatest challenge. Put simply, the liberals and the centrists have to come to an understanding. Like it or not, Democrats in West Virginia and Montana are different than Democrats in New York and California. And they all don't vote the same. There might be Democrats in West Virginia and Montana who support raising the minimum wage but who are anti abortion. Those same Democrats may like Trump, but still want a Democratic Congress to act as a check on him. And, finally, those very same Democrats may like Manchin and Tester but despise Nancy Pelosi and the DNC. The bottom line is that if they don't show up to vote, both states become pickups for Republicans this fall.

Democrats cannot let that happen. Regardless of whether or not Manchin and Tester are your favorite cup of tea, they are vital to any chance the party has of winning back control of the Senate. Right now, Trump and the Republicans are counting on both factions warring with themselves. It was Abraham Lincoln who once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." If progressives and centrists don't bury the hatchet and focus all their energies on the upcoming midterms, the party will not only waste a golden opportunity to retake the House, it might very well forfeit any hope of getting rid of the number one enemy of the free world in 2020.

And if that happens, may God have mercy on their souls.