Saturday, September 29, 2018

One Hundred Percent

Thursday's spectacle in the Senate Judiciary Committee represented a new low for this nation. In all my 57 years, I've never been so embarrassed to be an American. I will not pretend to be objective, because I'm not. What we saw was a tale of two people: one deferential, graceful, composed, humble; the other belligerent, entitled, disrespectful and contemptuous. One made a credible and persuasive case for herself; the other scapegoated virtually everyone in the room except himself. But they were not the only central players in this tragedy. What I thought I'd do is write each a short letter expressing my feelings. This comes from my gut and I make no apologies for how it may come out.

Christine Blasey Ford: Thank you, Dr. Ford, for your courage and your strength. I was deeply moved by your testimony. I must confess: prior to your appearance before the Committee, I wasn't a hundred percent sure of the validity of your claim. The journalist in me was somewhat skeptical. However, after having listened to you, any lingering doubts I might have had have been thoroughly removed. I can now say unequivocally that I believe you 100 percent.

And on behalf of this country and the eleven Republican senators who hid behind a female prosecutor they hired to do their bidding, I wish to apologize for the manner in which you were treated. Twice in your life you have been assaulted: the first was by Brett Kavanaugh 36 years ago; the second was by a bunch of old, white men who apparently haven't learned a damned thing since the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991.

From the moment you agreed to testify, the process was rigged. Chairman Chuck Grassley had already scheduled a vote for the very next day. THE VERY NEXT DAY! They never had any intention of giving you a fair hearing. This was nothing but a front to prove to voters they actually cared, when in fact they didn't. Once more they proved to the nation that when push comes to shove, a man will always get the benefit of the doubt over a woman.

I cannot begin to imagine the feelings that must be going on inside you. As a survivor of incest I have had to tell my story, but I had the comfort of doing it in the privacy of a trained therapist's office. You told your story on live TV in front of a captive audience. Please know that your efforts were not in vain. You touched the lives millions of women, and, yes, men too. Men heard you; this man heard you. And this man thanks you from the bottom of his heart. No matter what happens with this confirmation hearing, there is no turning back. Your bravery has seen to that. May God bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you and give you peace.

Lindsey Graham: Bravo, bravo, bravo. That was quite a show you put on. It's a shame the Academy Awards were already handed out because you, sir, would've won best actor in a supporting role for the performance you put on Thursday afternoon. I say supporting role, because for the first five hours of the hearing you, along with your band of cohorts, behaved like a troupe of mimes. There wasn't a peep out of you during Dr. Ford's testimony. Your hired hand was doing all the heavy lifting while you sat there pretending to give a shit.

But then once the "preliminary" round was over and your boy was fighting for his miserable life, you suddenly found both your voice and your balls. That little temper tantrum you threw was quite impressive, even if you did pull it out of your ass. Now I know why they call you a drama queen. And I must admit you have quite the knack for irony. I mean calling this hearing a sham, that really takes the cake. I don't suppose it crossed your mind while you were lecturing Democrats on their tactics that for 400 days your party didn't so much as grant Merrick Garland the courtesy of a meeting, much less a hearing. He and not Neil Gorsuch should be sitting on the Supreme Court.

But let's leave all that aside for the moment. Here's the problem with your logic. You're going to bat for the wrong judge. "This guy," as you referred to Kavanaugh, isn't Gorsuch; he isn't Sotomayor or Kagan, both of whom you made damn sure everyone knew you voted for; he isn't Roberts or Kennedy, either. Not one of those justices had a charge of sexual assault hurled at them. NOT ONE! In fact, over the last 30 years, only two Supreme Court nominees have been accused of sexual misconduct: Clarence Thomas and "This Guy." Democrats aren't destroying his reputation; he's doing that all by himself, both by his past deeds which are coming back to haunt him and his belligerence during the hearing. Innocent "guys" don't behave like that; guilty "guys" do.

So spare me your righteous indignation, Senator. I'm sure it played well over at the White House with your golf buddy, the Predator in Chief. The next time you're on the course with him, you should try to get a bigger handicap. It's the least he can do for you given you've forfeited every bit of what was left of your self respect. You may have once called John McCain a friend, but know this: there's no way in hell McCain would've voted for Kavanaugh, not without a thorough FBI investigation into the allegations. That's because he had more integrity in his pinky than you have in your whole fucking body.

Jeff Flake: Boy are you lucky I didn't write this letter Friday morning. I was all set to excoriate you because you were about to vote yes with the other ten Republicans on the Committee and send this nomination to a floor vote in the full Senate. But then Providence intervened and you were cornered in an elevator by a couple of women who shamed you into doing something decent. So you joined with your Democratic friend Chris Coons and fellow "moderate" Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to call for a one week delay to allow for an FBI investigation. Since I believe in giving credit where credit is due, I'll give you an E for effort. Your heart was in the right place and that's what counts.

And that brings me back to the one question you still haven't answer: Why are you leaving the Senate? If you truly care about this institution and what it used to stand for, why not stay and fight for it? Why turn tail and run? If you don't like what Donald Trump has done to your party and to the country then make a stand? You could've made a credible case for sanity to the voters back home. Even better, while serving as senator, you could've decided not to embrace any legislation that might be perceived as advancing Trump's agenda, including his massive tax cut that as a supposed fiscal conservative you have to know is blowing a hole in the debt. Long after you and members of your generation are dust, future generations will be paying for this tax cut.

So, yes, kudos to you for putting up something of a road block in this nomination, but shame on you for abandoning ship while the passengers are still on board.

Brett Kavanaugh: And now we come to the pièce de résistance. Congratulations, judge. I've always wondered what a privileged, entitled, snot-nosed, bitter white man would look like, and boy you did not disappoint. In fact, you put on quite a clinic. That lecture you gave - and let's just call it that - was pure Trump. I'd say he wrote it for you, but we both know the man isn't capable of writing a complete sentence, much less an entire speech. But whoever authored it, it was clearly intended for an audience of one.

Admit it, you were this close to having Trump pull the nomination from you and that prospect frightened you more than any accusation from Christine Ford. I've been on enough job interviews to know when someone is sweating it out. And those facial expressions were so over the top. Whoever coached you should team up with Lindsey Graham to do a movie. Of course the tears would've meant more if you could've summoned some for your victim. Did you see her testimony, judge? DID YOU? When asked, you said no. Assuming that was the truth - and I doubt it was - you missed a golden opportunity to see what genuine emotion and vulnerability look like. And temperament? Dr. Ford was the model of restraint, while your outbursts of anger exposed you as someone who is clearly unfit to be on the highest court of the land.

There was one moment during your testimony where you provided some badly needed comic relief. That was the point where you blamed the Clintons for your plight. I guess it was only a matter of time before you and your supporters got around to that. Frankly, I'm disappointed you didn't blame Obama. Your sugar daddy Trump has been trying for the last eighteen months to eradicate every policy of his. If Trump ever discovered Obama invented, say, oxygen, he'd suffocate the whole planet.

There's just one question I have for you, and it was one that was asked repeatedly by Democrats on the Committee: why on earth wouldn't you submit to a polygraph and ask the White House to open up an investigation into the allegations against you? Why wouldn't you want to do everything possible to clear your supposed good reputation? The reputation you keep insisting has been destroyed by this conspiracy against you. I know if it were me up there and I was innocent of the charges against me, I'd move heaven and earth to get at the truth.

But then who are we kidding? We both know what the truth is, don't we? You're guilty as sin and you know it. As I wrote in my last piece, I've been to enough 12-step meetings to know a bullshit artist when I see one. You don't want to take a polygraph test because you know full well that you'd fail it. And you sure as shit don't want to be interviewed by the FBI on the allegations against you because you also know that if you lie to the FBI, agents will show up at your door with handcuffs. People lie all the time to Congress and nothing happens; people who lie to the FBI wind up in jail. Just ask Paul Manafort.

As of now no one knows what the FBI will turn up over the next few days. Maybe you'll catch a break and nothing more damaging will be revealed. Or maybe the roof will fall in on you. If it's the latter, then justice would've been served and Trump will simply appoint another conservative jurist to the Supreme Court, one who hopefully isn't a sexual predator. If it's the former, do not think for a moment that this is over. Dr. Ford will be vindicated eventually.

I'll leave you with this one tidbit to chew on: there is no statute of limitations on sexual assault in Maryland. Trump may not be able to be indicted while in office; but that protection does not extend to members of the Judiciary. Not even members of the Supreme Court. I look forward to seeing your ass hauled out of that building in cuffs. A good many people will shed tears of joy on that day, sir, I can assure you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

My Personal Story

It was late in the summer of 2007 and I was watching an episode of Law and Order in which a woman is accused of murdering someone and has to rely on her son, who as it turns out has been in an incestuous relationship with her, to lie on her behalf to get her acquitted. I had seen this episode at least a dozen times. This time, however, something was very different. I suddenly felt nauseous and sick to my stomach.

Over the next few weeks I went through what was inarguably the worst period in my life. I grew distant from my wife, unable to adequately put into words what was going on inside me. I assumed it was a midlife crisis. Being 46, it seemed logical. There was just one problem: what I was going through didn't quite jive with what I had read and heard about midlife crises. I was emotionally shut down and depressed; I had an aversion to any music that reminded me of my past; I couldn't look at, much less touch, my wife; and I moved into the guest bedroom upstairs.

On the recommendation of an associate pastor at my church I entered into therapy. Over a period of several weeks, she and I hit upon the real problem. I was an incest survivor. That realization was the single most difficult thing I had ever had to come to grips with. The shame that came up for me was more than I could bare. The flashbacks were humiliating. I can't tell you how many times she had to remind me that I was not to blame. If you've ever watched Good Will Hunting, in which Robin Williams repeatedly tells Matt Damon "It's not your fault, Will," you know exactly what I'm talking about. Only in my case, my therapist had to keep reinforcing it in virtually every session I attended for at least a year.

I would spend the better part of six years coming to grips with a part of my life I had all but buried. I can tell you what year the abuse took place. It was 1979, but I cannot remember the month or the day. It was definitely in the afternoon. My sister was out of the house and my father had not yet come home from work. I remember there was a song on the radio by Gloria Gaynor. It was, oddly enough, "I Will Survive." I have always wondered why, whenever that song came on the radio, I would change the station. Now I know why. It was subconsciously triggering a visceral reaction in me. Today, it's on my oldies playlist and I am quite fond of it. Ironic, don't you think?

My mother did not physically touch my genitals, nor did she undress herself or me. What happened was more emotional than physical, but there was no denying the fact that she crossed a line no parent has the right to cross. I will not disclose the exact details of what transpired, but suffice to say, it took a trained professional months to help me reassemble those details.

When Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez say they can't remember every single detail of their assault, it's important to know this is quite normal. Victims of abuse frequently blot out certain details of the event. When their critics ask why it took them so long to come forward, it took me 28 years to admit I had been abused. We are not machines; we're human beings. And human beings have survival instincts which allow them to cope with the unthinkable.

And make no mistake about it, it is unthinkable, not to mention unconscionable. Who wants to admit that their parent - the person charged with protecting them from harm - harmed them? The very thought of it is anathema. Even now, eleven years after I entered therapy, part of me still can't believe it happened. I'm sure it was no less so for both these women.

The idea that Christine Ford and Deborah Ramirez have nothing to lose by accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault is insulting. They have already lost more than any woman should be required to lose: namely their dignity and their self worth, both of which were stripped away by this man's reckless behavior. It is not so much that I believe them as I do NOT believe him. I have been to enough 12-step meetings to know a bullshit artist when I see one. The manner in which he keeps insisting he's innocent is reminiscent of that famous Shakespearean line, "Me thinks he dost protest too much."

I am writing this not out of any need for self-aggrandizement. Far from it. I want there to be no doubt as to my motives here. My last piece dealt with the politics of the Kavanaugh hearing; this one is far more personal to me. I believe there is a special place in hell for those who victimize the helpless. And while my faith informs me that I am not fit to consign anyone to that ghastly place, the part of me that was robbed and cries out for justice cannot help but feel contempt for the damage that was done.

I have come to a certain peace, if you can call it that, over what my mother did. She was a sick woman who, hopefully, is in a much better place. But the scars she left behind will be with me all my remaining days.

Dems Should Tread Lightly With Kavanaugh

Now that it looks like we are finally going to get a hearing Thursday regarding Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegation of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, I have a few words of advice for Democrats on the Committee: tread lightly.

Let me repeat myself: Democrats should tread lightly here. Why, you ask? Because there's a real strong possibility that they could overplay their hand and give the Republicans the gift of a lifetime six weeks before the most critical midterm election in over a generation. Let me explain.

With the story in The New Yorker about a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who has now come forward and accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct against her, Republicans have closed ranks. They are proceeding full speed ahead on this confirmation. Yes, there will be a hearing Thursday, but the very next day there will be a Committee vote, followed by a full Senate vote. In other words, Ford's testimony is superfluous as far as they are concerned. They've already made up their minds. Like Lindsey Graham, they're not going to "ruin this guy's life based on an accusation." So much for hearing Ford out.

And then there's the latest bombshell from Michael Avenatti that on Wednesday he will reveal the identity of a third woman who was a victim of Kavanaugh. The manner in which Avenatti is turning what should be a serious matter into a freak show is deeply disturbing, but if the allegations are true, Mitch McConnell's pledge to "plow through" with the confirmation just became considerably more difficult.

Think about it: without asking Kavanaugh one single question, Democrats have been dealt a winning hand here. The optics for Republicans over this nomination could not be worse.  As I wrote in an earlier piece,
Do not be fooled by the bravado coming from Senate Republicans and the White House. They're sweating bullets over this confirmation. Mitch McConnell would rather have a tooth pulled without Novocaine than have this on his plate. His party wasn't all that popular with women voters before this story broke; the specter of seeing a repeat of the Anita Hill debacle would only drive those anemic poll numbers further south. Most Republicans are resigned to the House flipping; if they lose the Senate as well, you can kiss goodbye any future Supreme Court confirmations.
The polling on Kavanaugh is problematic for Republicans, as well. A majority of Americans do not approve of his nomination and a majority of them want the confirmation vote delayed until all the facts are known. There's an old saying in football that goes like this: when your opponent fumbles the ball, don't give it back to them.

Democrats have every right to probe Kavanaugh on his past; it is more than relevant. And they should NOT let him get away with the same kind of evasive, lame-ass answers to legitimate questions like he did the first time around. Kamala Harris clearly got under his skin; she will no doubt try to do so again. Good, that's her job.

But while most people, sadly, don't pay much attention to issues like abortion or even the limits of executive power, sexual assault is an issue that resonates with many people across the political spectrum. And even though women pay particular attention to how these issues are dealt with, not all women are progressive. For Democrats, the road to regaining their majority goes through the suburbs, hardly a bastion of liberalism.

As one who lives in one of the largest suburban areas of the country - Long Island - I can tell you that while a majority of these people may not be happy with the way Trump is conducting himself in office, that doesn't automatically mean they like Democrats or that they would. if push came to shove, pull the lever for them. If these voters get the impression that Democrats are simply grandstanding just to delay the appointment of a conservative justice till after the midterms, any hope they have of taking the House in November - much less the Senate - will go up in smoke.

I'm serious. There's a fine line between doing your job and being a dick. Republicans have given a text-book example of the latter over the last nine years, particularly so the last two. That's the biggest reason why the generic ballot polling shows them trailing Democrats by 8 points. It would be the height of political malpractice for Democrats to look the gift horse they've been given in the mouth.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rod Rosenstein Screws the Pooch

File this under unforced error of the century. If a New York Times story about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wanting to secretly record Donald Trump and looking to invoke the 25th Amendment is true, you can start the countdown now. Even if the story isn't true, the fact that it's out there will give Trump all the justification he's been looking for to get rid of Rosenstein and appoint someone who will end the Mueller investigation. Already the Trump whisperers at Fox News are goading him on. Since we know he has the impulse control of a toddler, it wouldn't surprise me if Rosenstein is shown the door by Monday. Of course there's always the possibility that Trump might wait until after the midterms and fire both him and Jeff Sessions, who has basically been on the chopping block ever since he recused himself in the Russia probe.

Naturally the Justice Department is pushing back on the Times' piece, and Rosenstein himself issued a statement which read, "The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect. I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment." Talk about a non-denial denial.

Unfortunately for Rosenstein, ABC has confirmed the story. But according to the Huffington Post, the comments were made in "jest." "I remember this meeting and remember the wire comment," the source said. "The statement was sarcastic and was never discussed with any intention of recording a conversation with the president."

Personally I don't care whether Rosenstein was joking or dead serious. You just don't say shit like that in an environment where other people can hear you and later leak your comments to the press. Rumor has it that the leaker was former FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who is now under investigation for lying to internal investigators. Apparently he's not too thrilled about the way he was treated by the Justice Department. Hell hath no fury like a fired employee.

To be fair, Rosenstein isn't the only person within the government to mention invoking the 25th Amendment. Both Bob Woodward in his book Fear and a senior administration official who wrote an op-ed piece in the Times have said that it was discussed as a possible remedy to protect the country from this president. The difference is that while the identities of Woodward's sources and that of the op-ed writer remain anonymous, Rosenstein enjoys no such protection. He's about as anonymous as an earth quake.

This isn't the first time a member of the Justice Department or FBI has fed the paranoia on the Right of a deep state looking to depose this president. Besides McCabe's faux pas, both Lisa Page and Peter Strzok exchanged text messages that clearly showed animus towards Trump. While the Inspector General's report made clear there was no evidence that either of them tainted the investigation, the damage was done nonetheless. And now, thanks to Rosenstein's carelessness, an already tenuous situation at the DOJ has become even more precarious, and the most important investigation this country has seen since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of treason hangs in the balance.

Jesus, I knew we had a president who was thoroughly inept; what has become painfully obvious is that he appears to have a lot of company.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Why More Women Don't Come Forward

For the record I think Christine Blasey Ford is getting bad legal advice. Her decision to demand an investigation by the FBI into her claims of sexual assault as a condition for her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is doomed to failure. There is no way Chairman Chuck Grassley is going to grant any further delays. Like it or not the only avenue she had to tell her side of the story was to appear next Monday. Now Senate Republicans have all the justification they need to proceed with a vote next Thursday, which barring any additional damaging revelations, will result in Brett Kavanaugh being confirmed as the next justice on the Supreme Court.

And make no mistake about it, had Ford testified, even without a formal investigation, she would've made a compelling witness. Those who think this is nothing more than a he said / she said debate haven't been paying very much attention to what's been going on in the country over the last two years. This isn't 1991. The Me Too movement has not only empowered women to come out and report incidences of sexual misconduct, it has forced a long-overdue conversation about the role of women in society and the manner in which they've been treated.

Politically, this was a nightmare for the GOP. Do not be fooled by the bravado coming from Senate Republicans and the White House. They're sweating bullets over this confirmation. Mitch McConnell would rather have a tooth pulled without Novocaine than have this on his plate. His party wasn't all that popular with women voters before this story broke; the specter of seeing a repeat of the Anita Hill debacle would only drive those anemic poll numbers further south. Most Republicans are resigned to the House flipping; if they lose the Senate as well, you can kiss goodbye any future Supreme Court confirmations

Now, with Ford not testifying, they catch the break they've been praying for. Grassley comes off looking magnanimous, while Diane Feinstein, whose decision not to release the letter from Ford back in July when it might've made a difference, has some serious explaining to do, not only to her fellow Democrats on the committee, but to the party in general.

But the real scandal here isn't political. Kavanaugh's views on presidential powers and Roe v. Wade are certainly relevant, but they pale in comparison to the damage Ford has had to put up with since her letter was leaked to the press. Her address and phone number have been posted on line and she has received death threats that have forced her to relocate herself and her family in order to keep them safe.

If you want to know why more women don't come forward to tell their stories this is why. It is bad enough to be "slut shamed" in front of a committee of mostly men - many of whom have already made up their minds - divulging every single detail of what your abuser did to you, but to add injury to insult and have to endure the constant onslaught of threats and harassment from mostly anonymous people, not knowing which nut job might act on their rage and harm you or your family, that is more than any woman should have to bare. Do not think for a moment that Ford hasn't watched what happened to Hill 27 years ago. Who in their right mind would want to go through that kind of humiliation?

Face it, there was never going to be any justice for Christine Ford whether she testified or not. But at least she would've had her day in court, such as it was, and maybe that would've encouraged other women to come forward. My fear is that this ill-advised decision by her may give them the permission they need to keep quiet. And that means more perpetrators will get away with inexcusable  and, in some cases, criminal behavior, and a movement that could've brought about real change will wither and die.

As for the the Republican Party, ever since they decided to bed down with the sexual predator in the White House they have had to deal with the political fallout. Whether that fallout leads to actual consequences this November is yet to be determined.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Why Trump Isn't Getting Any "Credit" For the Economy

Many political pundits from both sides of aisle have speculated as to why Donald Trump isn't getting the credit he deserves for what they claim is a strong economy. Both seem to be in agreement that Trump is stepping on his own message. If he would stop tweeting and talk more about the economy, both his approval numbers and the generic ballot would be higher than they currently are and Republicans would not be facing the possible loss of their majorities in both houses of Congress. Certainly, if you just look at just the raw data - unemployment at 3.9 percent and 2nd quarter GDP at 4 percent - the argument can certainly be made that the overall fundamentals are quite strong.

There's just one problem with that assessment: it isn't true. The fact is the economy isn't nearly as strong as many have stated. So says David Leonhardt, whose piece in The New York Times is aptly titled, "We're Measuring the Economy All Wrong."

According to Leonhardt, the metrics that are used to arrive at the unemployment rate and GDP growth were invented in the 1870s and the Great Depression respectively to mollify concerns people had over the strength of the economy, and they are very "misleading."

For instance, the unemployment rate excludes people who have "given up" looking for work. Including these people into the mix gives us what we call the labor force participation rate. Since 1960, the difference between the unemployment rate and those who have given up looking for work has grown steadily. The real unemployment rate is actually closer to 15 percent, and it is likely higher in those areas of the country that voted for Trump.

Similarly, GDP growth is another misleading economic indicator. It measures how well Wall Street is doing, but for families living on Main Street, the vast majority of the wealth has gone to the top 1 to 2 percent. A 401k retirement account only means something if you have one to invest in. And if you're one of the millions of people who live paycheck to paycheck, it's yet another part of that elusive American dream that has turned into a nightmare.

Then there's the GOP tax "reform" law that will penalize middle-class families who own homes. The elimination of the personal exemption and the cap on the SALT deduction will be prove to be a rude awakening for them next April 15th. When expected refunds shrink or disappear altogether, the public outcry within the electorate will be palpable. That's why Republicans aren't running on it. They know there's a tsunami coming their way. The only question is how many of them will be swept out to sea in November.

When you combine the rise in the cost of living - rent, healthcare, energy, groceries, etc. - with the stagnation in wages, the middle class - the bedrock of this economy - has been under tremendous stress dating back to the '80s. Many of them voted for Trump in 2016 believing he would improve their lives. The fact that he hasn't is the biggest reason why he and his party are not getting the "credit" they think they deserve for it.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

What Will Obama's Presence Mean for Democrats This Fall?

The decision by former president Barack Obama to involve himself in the 2018 midterms - and I assume his speech at the University of Illinois was not a one off - could have four potential consequences.

One, it could backfire by potentially turning off suburban voters who do not like Donald Trump and who are leaning toward voting Democrat in the fall. Two, it could prove to be a lightning rod for Trump's base which would lead to an increase in Republican turnout. Three, it will energize progressives who have historically had a hard time showing for midterms. Four, it will have no impact at all since most of the electorate who intends to vote has already made up its mind. Let's address each of these in order.
  1. If we look very closely at Obama's two election wins, it was clear that the further you got from the urban centers the weaker his numbers became. In most suburban areas of the country he was no better than 50 / 50 and in some, he was under water. So there is a very real possibility that Obama could turn off some of those voters in tossup districts that Republicans currently hold, and that might mean the difference between a narrow win or a narrow loss. Clearly, Obama will have to be very selective as to which districts and states he visits.
  2. Regarding Trump's base, I seriously doubt that it needs any incentive to show up. The very thought that these people need a lightning rod is comical. You can count on one hand the number of times this president has told the truth and one of them was when he said he could shoot someone of Fifth Avenue and he wouldn't lose any of his supporters. With or without Obama on the campaign trail, these people will be loaded for bear.
  3. We've seen this movie before. Progressives getting all worked up about this or that issue and then, when it comes time to vote, they sit at home contemplating their navels. We saw it in 2010 and 2014. If ever there was a group of people for which the word lethargy was intended this is it. I'm sure that was the main motivation behind Obama's decision to jump back into the political waters. He saw what happened in 2014 when he sat on the sidelines while his party ostensibly disowned him. The result was that Democrats lost the Senate that year. This time around, with so much at stake, Obama seems determined not to repeat history. Like Bill Clinton before him, he's prepared to put his popularity to good work.
  4. And lastly, there's always the possibility that in the end Obama stumping for Democrats - or Trump stumping for Republicans for that matter - won't have any impact at all. If you look closely at the RCP generic ballot, one thing jumps out at you: Democrats have been in the lead since Trump was sworn in. True that lead has gone up and down, from a high of 13 percent in December of last year to a low of 3.2 percent just this past June, but at no point have Republicans taken a lead. Not since the 2006 midterms have we seen such consistency in the generic polling. What this indicates is that voter's perception of the major parties might already be baked in to the equation. And there is data that supports this. If that is the case, then the next two months will simply be a side show for political pundits to pontificate about.
So what does my gut tell me? If there was one weakness about Obama's presidency, it was that he didn't have much in the way of coattails. In short, his personal popularity didn't do much for down ballot Democrats at the federal and state levels. The result was that during his two terms in office, his party suffered historic losses across the board. Fortunately, Trump appears to be no better in this regard. True, his supporters may love him, but that affection hasn't - to borrow a Republican term - trickled down to his fellow cohorts. Witness the difficulty Ted Cruz is having in his reelection bid in Texas. He currently has a one-point lead over his Democratic opponent Beto O'Rourke in a state Republicans typically win by double digits. Of course, Trump spending his entire campaign bashing his own party hasn't exactly helped his cause during these midterms. Voters tend to remember phrases like "Lyin' Ted Cruz" when it comes time for them to go to the polls. That's one of the the reasons why there is an enthusiasm gap between the two parties, and it explains the generic polling we've seen.

What I think will happen is that both Obama and Trump will stump in areas of the country that will likely do the least harm to their respective parties. That means Trump will spend most of his time in states like Montana, North Dakota and Missouri, where the population is mainly white, while Obama will visit states like Arizona and Nevada, where there is a large Hispanic population. He'll also campaign in districts that Hillary won, but which are currently controlled by Republicans. In the end, though, I don't think it'll move the needle much. The country is so polarized at this point, the term middle ground is almost extinct.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that of the four possible outcomes, number four seems the most plausible. I like Obama, but, just like the mysterious op-ed writer in the Times, nothing he said in his speech was all that revelatory. If we know anything about Trump, it's that he's the most transparent president we've ever had in our history. He's as obvious as a wooden nickel. If that isn't enough to defeat his agenda this fall and bring him down in 2020, then nothing this charismatic former president can say or do will have the slightest impact.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

David Frum Is Right

After giving the matter some considerable thought, I agree with David Frum. The New York Times op-ed piece by an anonymous senior official from the Trump Administration has done more harm than good. Frum writes,
What happens the next time a staffer seeks to dissuade the president from, say, purging the Justice Department to shut down Robert Mueller’s investigation? The author of the Times op-ed has explicitly told the president that those who offer such advice do not have the president’s best interests at heart and are, in fact, actively subverting his best interests as he understands them on behalf of ideas of their own.

He’ll grow more defiant, more reckless, more anti-constitutional, and more dangerous.
And those who do not quit or are not fired in the next few days will have to work even more assiduously to prove themselves loyal, obedient, and on the team. Things will be worse after this article. They will be worse because of this article.
Just so we're clear, neither I, nor Frum, are quibbling about the substance and content of the piece.  With the exception of invoking the 25th Amendment - that one came out of left field - it corroborates every bit of investigative journalism we've seen about this White House. There have simply been too many people who have come forward expressing their grave concerns about the behavior of this president for this not to be true. As Fareed Zakaria adroitly observed, "Behind Trump’s ranting, impulsive, incoherent and narcissistic facade lies a ranting, impulsive, incoherent and narcissistic man."

No, the issue for me and Frum isn't the sincerity of these people, it's their lack of courage. Because what this mysterious writer, and virtually every one else in this administration who has commented off the record to the press - Bob Woodward included - has done isn't particularly heroic or patriotic. What it is, is self-serving, self indulgent and ego driven. Despite the author's affection for John McCain, there is no way the late senator would ever have been an anonymous source. If McCain had something to say, he always said it loud and clear and ON THE RECORD!

I have no doubt this author thought their op-ed would bring about something of an uprising within the White House. After all, what's a resistance without, well, resistance? Unfortunately for him, or her as the case may be, it's had the opposite effect. It's given permission for those who, for all we know, had been anonymous sources for other reporters to close ranks around this president and remain silent. Instead of setting an example by going on the record, this op-ed will only discourage future "brave souls" from speaking out.

But, worst of all, it will only embolden this president. A man who was already paranoid about the prospects of being impeached and / or indicted, will descend further into the same abyss that eventually consumed Richard Nixon. But unlike the 37th president, who at least had the good sense to know when it was over, this president will hold on to the bitter end; even if it means the destruction of the country.

There's no nice way to put this. We have a commander in chief who behaves more and more like Captain Queeg every day. Only instead of a fleet of Van Johnsons coming to the rescue, the nation appears stuck with a boatload of Fred McMurrays.

Who's Minding This Store?

Over the last couple of days, two bombshell stories, both involving Donald Trump, have rocked this administration and confirmed for those of us who have been following his antics since he was sworn in what we already knew: that this president is unfit for office.

The first was the revelation yesterday that Bob Woodward, the man who co-wrote All The President's Men with Carl Bernstein, has written a book that will officially be released next week titled, "Fear: Trump in the White House." The second was an op-ed piece in The New York Times written by an anonymous "senior official," who called Trump's behavior "amoral."

First, some thoughts on the Times piece. I am not a fan of anonymous op-eds. Whatever this person's motivation - and we can only assume that they are deeply worried about what this president could do - they should have gone on the record. I have no doubt that over the next few days he or she will go on several cable news shows to decry what happened as treasonous, just as Trump has done in one of his many unhinged tweets. If this person truly cared about this Republic, the appropriate thing would've been for him or her to resign and then gone to the Times.

That being said, I was floored by the content of the piece. The author writes that early on there were "whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment." A startling and unsettling revelation that I hinted at in a piece I wrote last year, but which I never would've guessed in a million years was even being considered among his staff. Not even Nixon's White House contemplated such a move.

But perhaps the most disturbing part of the piece had to do with containing this president's worst impulses.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
In Woodward's Fear, he documents similar actions by members of Trump's cabinet. In one excerpt, Gary Cohn, the former chief economic advisor to Trump, went so far as to remove two letters from his desk that, had they been signed, would've formally withdrawn the U.S. from two trade agreements: one involving South Korea, the other NAFTA.

In another excerpt, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, upon hearing Trump wanted to assassinate Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for launching a chemical attack against his own people, actually countermanded the order. He told a senior aid that the response would be "much more measured."

The common thread between the anonymous op-ed piece and Woodward's book appears to be this: If you think what you've seen is bad, trust me, it could've been much, much worse. Well, I feel a whole lot better, don't you?

I literally am at a loss for words to describe what's going on here. Somehow "unprecedented" doesn't quite capture it. Even the old standby "uncharted waters" falls short. This entire administration has been one gigantic voyage through unchartered waters. We are supposed to believe that a duly elected president has been kept from destroying the country by a few brave adults, one of whom summoned just enough "courage" to pen an anonymous op-ed to inform us that his boss is nuts? With all due respect to the author, any reasonably objective person and first year med student could've arrived at that conclusion months ago.

Personally, I don't give a rat's ass how many adults are in this administration; the overriding problem for the nation and for the world is that none of them have the authority under the Constitution to prevent this maniac from following through on any or all of his dangerous impulses. So what if Cohn hid a couple of pieces of paper? Who's to say next time Trump won't simply tweet that he is pulling out of NATO? Or what if that warped brain of his decides tomorrow to call up the Pentagon and order a strike on Assad? Or worse, North Korea?

What are these "adults" going to do, tackle him in the Oval Office? With the Secret Service protecting him? Right, sure they are. The same adults who hide behind anonymity yet publicly praise him as the most successful first-term president of all time are nothing more than cowards. Had they any real courage or integrity they would've resigned months ago.

Bob Corker said there was nothing in the op-ed piece or Woodward's book that he didn't already know. I have two questions for the senator. Why, if you knew this president was unfit, didn't you take active measures towards removing him from office? And why are you leaving at a time when your country needs you most?

Men and women of courage do not shirk their responsibilities; nor do they hide out in the shadows. They draw a line in the sand and stand their ground. How many times have we uttered the words "Constitutional crisis," knowing full well we hadn't yet arrived at that point? Well, guess what, folks, we're now at that point.

In a tweet, Trump demanded that the source of the op-ed piece be turned over to him to be punished. Let me repeat that: the President of the United States is threatening retribution against the person who criticized him in writing. Only the other day, he tweeted that his own Attorney General should not have indicted two Republican congressmen so close to the midterms. The man who worships dictators is acting just like one right in front of our very eyes.

In the early days of Adolf Hitler's reign, before he consolidated his power, there were many opportunities to stop him in his tracks. But his opponents either did not take him seriously or lacked the will to take effective measures. And the result was a World War that cost millions of lives, including six million Jews. How many millions more might die if Trump goes full bore berserk?

Harry Truman used to say we get the government we deserve. For the sake of the Republic, I pray that, in this instance, he is wrong.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

All the Days To Come

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.
- Ernest Hemingway

In the days and weeks that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the nation came together as never before. Democrats and Republicans put aside their petty squabbles, joined hands and placed country before party. As if by divine providence, our leaders summoned the political courage that too often had alluded them throughout their careers.

It was a marvelous moment; one that made me proud to be an American. But, alas, it was fleeting. By the following spring, it was business as usual. Those very same Democrats and Republicans, who sang God Bless America on the steps of the Capital, were back at each other's throats. Nothing, not even the deadliest terrorist attack in our history, could alter, fundamentally, who and what they had become.

Watching the funeral service for John McCain on Saturday reminded me of that moment of unity we all experienced 17 years ago. It was gratifying to see leaders from both political parties come together to pay their respects to a comrade who, on more than once occasion, showed us all how this grand experiment in Democracy is supposed to work.

Make no mistake about it, McCain was a Republican, through and through, and he voted with his party 90 percent of the time. But if there is such a thing as a maverick, McCain personified it. He was a royal pain the ass to his party's leadership and a thorn in the side to his political opponents. In the spirit of Jefferson and Adams, he fought the good fight, but he also sought compromise where he thought it was appropriate. At a time when the overwhelming majority of his fellow Republicans wanted nothing to do with immigration reform, he reached across the aisle to champion it. He fought tirelessly for campaign finance reform. And even though the bill that bears his name, along with that of Russ Feingold, was eventually ruled unconstitutional in the Citizens United case, he remained committed right till the end of his life to eliminating the role soft money plays in our political system.

I have no illusions about what took place at the National Cathedral in Washington. The words that were spoken so eloquently by former presidents George Bush and Barack Obama and passionately by his daughter Meghan were poignant and, I believe, accurately captured the essence of the man as well as the malady that besets the country he loved so dearly. It isn't a stretch to say that more than just a man was laid to rest this weekend.

The challenge for the leaders of this broken and corrupt political system could not be clearer. What will they do once they return back to work on Tuesday? Will it be business as usual, just like it was after 9/11? Or will they put into practice those high-sounding words they drummed up the nerve to utter over a casket none of them are worthy to carry? Hemingway reminds us that we have the power to affect the outcome of tomorrow by what we do today, or, as has been the case for far too long, what we don't do today.

Do not be fooled: this is not about partisan politics. The nation has had partisan politics ever since its early days. And we've had episodes in our history where honest disagreements got out of hand and led to unintended consequences. Teddy Roosevelt so despised Howard Taft that he ran as an independent and, as a result, Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912. The founders never intended us to sing Kumbaya.

But they did intend for the Republic to function in spite of the internal divisions from within. President Obama spoke of all of us being on the same team. I respectfully disagree. I've always thought it was more like two football teams knocking heads in a fierce battle to win a game both needed to qualify for the playoffs. The only difference is that after the football game, players from both teams gathered at the 50 yard line to hold hands and pray together. Whatever animosity they exhibited during the game was now gone and all they had left was a profound respect for one another that transcended the sport itself.

That is what is missing from Washington these days: a healthy respect for the right to disagree. It is not the battles that take place on the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives that are the problem; but the lack of regard for procedures and decorum that has been the hallmark of our democracy for more than two centuries.

Few, if any, senators or congressmen bother to know one another or even care to. Once a bill gets passed or defeated, they retreat to their "lorckerrooms" and either gloat over their victory or whine about their loss. There is no sense of camaraderie; in short, the battle goes on and on. Like some Vulcan mating ritual, the contest is to the death.

Cable news outlets and social media perpetuate this constant state of war. Both sides are terrified of saying or doing something that could upset their respective bases. So the bombast becomes more and more personal until finally the tribal politics consumes everything in its path. Partisanship inevitably leads to a form of paralysis where nothing gets done because neither side will give an inch. The lights stay on and bills are passed along strict party lines with simple majorities. Gone are the days when major legislation passed with 70 or more votes. A government that can't pass a ham sandwich now settles for nibbling on a crouton.

It would be convenient to lay all of this at the feet of Donald Trump. Certainly no politician has benefited more from the use of divisive rhetoric. But to paraphrase Billy Joel, he didn't start this fire. Sure he toasted a few marshmallows on his way to winning the presidency, but this malady started years before he came to power. I have said this on more than one occasion: Trump is more a symptom of what's wrong with our political system than the actual disease itself. Simply voting his out of office - or impeaching him, as some have suggested - won't cure what ails the country. If the forces that paved the way for his ascendancy are not exorcized from our political system, the next would-be despot that comes along will have the privilege of being able to finish what he started.

This should frighten any and all who care about this country. What keeps me up nights is the very real possibility that it might already be too late. John McCain is dead and buried. His mourners now wait and see if there is enough room in his casket for the United States of America.