Category Archives: Politics

No celebrations

Fourth of July Solitary bonfire

On Independence Day we should be celebrating the American spirit that strove to cast off burdensome chains and gave birth to a new country unlike any that came before. But not this year.

This year there are no spectacular fireworks, no beach parties, no barbecues— nothing to mark what many fear may be the last gasp of American democracy. Will the American electorate succeed in loosening Trump’s chokehold on us and the traditions we hold most dear? Will the deadly Coronavirus wring the life out of hundreds of thousands more?

We can’t breathe!

The plague can’t last forever, but the devastation Trump has wrought will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair. His Administration has snuffed out the beacon of hope that the world used to covet, sullied our ideals and accelerated the despoliation of the planet. We have become the home of the incarcerated, the tortured, the hungry and the sick.

We are teetering on the cusp of an inflection point— we can continue our decline into ignominy or aspire to revive and finally realize the ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. 

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Filed under American Society, Coronavirus, Trump

Killing the virus, Trump style

Donald Trump is the object of ridicule, not only in the United States, but internationally. After the President mused about taking household disinfectants internally, Twitter exploded. Almost immediately, medical doctors and the makers of cleaning products and disinfectants hastened to refute Trump’s suggestions and warn people not to believe the President’s theories.

Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr), a writer and comedian, posted a video of herself mouthing Trump’s own words, in his voice, proposing to bring “the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. … Sounds interesting. I see disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning.” Transcript below

The Italian Newspaper Il Corriere della Sera is one of many news media worldwide that picked up the story. “Injections of disinfectants, UV lamps to ‘dry out’ the virus: these are two of the absurd proposals advanced yesterday by the president of the United States Donald Trump during his daily Coronavirus briefing from the White House,” wrote the Corriere. In the video, the paper also focused on the speechless horror of Dr. Deborah Birx as she watched her boss promote remedies for the Coronavirus that would sicken and potentially kill anyone who heeded his remarks.

Why would any sane person consider injecting or ingesting highly toxic products?

Donald Trump is desperate. He sees his prospects for reelection rapidly decaying. He can no longer tout a strong economy and low unemployment. The economy is in tatters now, and though the stock market is recovering from a precipitous fall, the Dow Jones is still almost 6,000 points lower than its record high two months ago. Twenty-two million people are out of work, more than during the Great Depression. Trump will seize on any remedy that might end the pandemic, let people go back to work and revive the economy.  Trump’s ignorance of science is manifest. Realizing that blue states have much higher rates of infection than red states, could he be dreaming that Democrats will drink the KoolAid, die off, reduce their number, and so improve his chances in November?

Transcript of President Trump’s remarks on remedies to vanquish the Novel Coronavirus

So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think [Dr. Deborah Birx] said, that hasn’t been checked but you’re gonna test it. 

And then I said, supposing it brought the light inside the body, which you can either do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you’re gonna test that too, sounds interesting. 

And I then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way you can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds interesting to me, so we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it goes in one minute, that’s pretty powerful.”

Politifact

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Filed under Health, Trump

Combatting the Coronavirus

Credit: Scientific Animations

Knowledgable health officials are telling us that a Coronavirus epidemic will not spare the US. It’s a question of when it will arrive, not if. They warn that we must not lose any more time in preparing for the onslaught of the disease.

[Update: scroll to end for tips on how to protect yourself]

As of now, we are grievously unprepared. We don’t have enough hospital beds to accommodate both the predicted large numbers of victims and the patients hospitalized for the usual reasons. We don’t have nearly enough masks and other gear to protect health workers constantly exposed to the disease; we lack testing kits to identify and confirm infection. These are indispensable for preventing or at least limiting the spread of COVID-19, as the new Coronavirus is now called. 

There has been no concerted effort to remedy these and other deficiencies because two years ago Trump fired the global disease expert and eliminated the agency established by President Obama to deal with domestic epidemics and global pandemics. (Trump thought emergency preparation was a waste of money because without an epidemic, there would be nothing to do.) The President defunded the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), stripping away the infrastructure we now desperately need to deal with the crisis.

Instead, Trump assured Americans in a press conference on February 26 that he and his administration are doing a “great job” and have the situation completely under control. There are only 15 cases, he asserted, and there will soon be zero as those people recover. Actually, there were 59 cases in the US (now 60). Trump preferred not to count the 44 Americans  infected with or exposed to the Coronavirus who were airlifted home from Asia. Despite the insistence of the CDC that they be isolated, the Trump political appointees with no medical expertise had them travel in the same plane with their healthy comrades. Even worse, A whistleblower today revealed that the personnel sent to welcome the 14 persons in quarantine were not trained or equipped with protective gear. Moreover, after being exposed to the virus, they went their separate ways across the country, possibly exposing an unknown number of other people.

As of today, 49 countries have reported more than 82,000 cases and more than 2,800 deaths from the disease. But Trump denies we have an imminent crisis, controverting the scientists’ warning that we cannot avoid the certainty of an epidemic.

Trump believes that his reelection depends on the continuing record-breaking climb of the stock market. The market has been tanking for six consecutive days since February 20, significantly eroding the gains of the Trump years. The decline is a reaction to the virus and its adverse effect on the global economy, but Trump blamed it on the Democrats’ debate (which took place on February 25, after four days of market free fall) and the media, which he accuses of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation.

To combat the horrible truths that emerge each day, as we learn of more cases in more places, Trump has decreed that the CDC and other medical authorities cannot advise and update the public without first submitting their comments to the vice president for his approval. From now on, with the experts muzzled, we’ll have to depend on leaks and sharp reporting to find out what is really going on. Shades of Stalin, as democratic norms continue to be shattered and totalitarian constraints and restrictions inexorably replace them. 

People, products, food and disease-causing micro-organisms traverse the globe in unprecedented numbers and historic speed. When they were free to share their concerns, professional medics warned us to prepare by readying hospitals, testing and stocking medical supplies. But how can individuals prepare? What should we do? The recommendations for avoiding contagion are mostly common sense procedures, no different from what we already know. 

  • First of all, prepare, don’t panic. Healthy people experience what will feel like a cold or the flu. Children don’t seem to be affected. Seniors, however, are at risk, especially if they have chronic conditions like diabetes.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after touching handrails, doorknobs, elevator buttons, gym equipment— anything that others touch. Wash before eating and after using the bathroom. Use soap and hot water and scrub for at least 20 seconds: between the fingers, backs of the hands, under the nails. This video demonstrates the technique advocated by the World Health Organization as the best way to wash your hands. (It’s a little more complicated than what you’re used to.)
  • Don’t touch your face! Most of us do it all the time, but infection enters easily through mouth, eyes and nose.
  • For now, stop shaking hands.
  • Avoid touching handrails, doorknobs, etc. away from home.
  • Carry alcohol-based (at least 60 percent alcohol) hand sanitizer to use when soap and water aren’t feasible.
  • Keep your distance (six feet, if possible) from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Avoid crowds. It follows that you should avoid public transportation whenever possible. Also sport events, theaters, conferences.
  • Keep a 90-day supply of your medications on hand.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Stock your cupboard in case you have to stay home.
  • Avoid spreading your own germs:
  • Sneeze or cough into your elbow.
  • Stay home if you don’t feel well and see a doctor.

If you manage to follow these tips, you and your family will probably stay healthy. At least you won’t regret not taking the recommended precautions.

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L’État C’est Moi: I am the State

photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

If Donald Trump has learned anything in his three years in the White House, it is that the president has awesome power. 

Trump may not have read the Constitution, but he now knows that Article 2 defines the executive branch of government. According to Trump, “I have in Article 2 the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Of course he doesn’t, but if the Senate doesn’t remove him from office, what little restraint he may have experienced will evaporate and he will accelerate the erosion of the pillars of  American democracy. 

Trump would have recognized a soulmate in Richard Nixon. He also believed that “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” But 1974 seems eons ago, a time when Republicans and Democrats recognized the danger of an out-of-control president and joined forces to oust him.

Yesterday Trump’s lawyer affirmed that Donald Trump could do nothing illegal as president. The man who defended O.J. Simpson put forth a terrifying argument in Trump’s defense. Alan Dershowitz asserted, “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in an impeachment.” 

Dershowitz argues that a president can do whatever believes is for the public good. If the president believes, as Trump does, that he is the best president ever, then his election is necessary and justifies whatever it takes to achieve that end. Asking foreign governments to discredit his adversary, hacking the election, disseminating disinformation, rigging the voting machines, disenfranchising g/.roups known to vote Democratic— all of these and more are permissible. Trump has invited China, as well as Russia, to help re-elect him.

Dershowitz may have done irreparable harm, especially if Republican senators acquit the President. He has legitimized autocracy. 

Louis XIV

Trump reminds me of Louis XIV of France. He ruled as an absolute monarch, believing that what was good for him was good for France. “L’état c’est moi,” he said famously. Louis believed in the divine right of kings, much as Trump believes in Article II. Trump loves to live lavishly surrounded by gold furnishings, and Louis built the sumptuous palace of Versailles for his royal residence. Several decades after his death, his heirs and the rest of the French nobility succumbed to the guillotine and the French Revolution. France was never the same.

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Filed under Politics, Trump

Trump defensive strategy: delay, delay, delay

John R. Bolton

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, has indicated that he would testify in the impeachment hearing — BUT — he wants a judge to decide if he can continue to ignore the Judiciary Committee’s invitation to testify, as the president has ordered, or whether, as a former employee of the White House, he is not subject to the executive order.

Initially, I thought Bolton’s request for a judicial determination was a strictly CYA maneuver. But now his lawyer’s hint on Friday that Bolton knows about “many relevant meetings and conversations” that the House committee doesn’t suggests something more. The intimation that Bolton could supply new evidence is meant to be tantalizing. If the Democrats bite the bait by acceding to his request and taking him to court to force him to testify before the committee, the momentum of the hearings will be lost.

Delay only helps Trump.  The longer the impeachment inquiry drags on, the greater the chance that public interest in the eventual impeachment will subside. No one wants the impeachment to drag into a presidential year, and the first primary is only two and a half months away. The candidates for the nomination need to direct their attention to their campaigns. They can’t afford to be distracted by the impeachment.

Democrats already have all the evidence they need to impeach Trump, But Bolton’s position in the White House places him closer to the president than any of the other witnesses so far. His testimony would certainly be valuable to the Democrats and difficult for the Republicans to impugn.

Democrats must resist Republican attempts to bog down and obstruct the hearings by assailing the process, smearing the witnesses, and using the courts to delay unimpeachable testimony that will likely damn the president.

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Eyes on the Chief Justice

Will John Roberts defend the scofflaw Donald Trump, who boasts of being able to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue with impunity? We shall soon find out. 

Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about courts and the law for Slate Magazine, discusses the multiple lawsuits headed for the Supreme Court that will directly impact Trump’s fate, if not determine it. Federal and district courts have stymied Trump’s attempts to shield his tax returns from public scrutiny, to direct his cronies and White House staff (past and present) from testifying in the current impeachment inquiry, and to keep evidence presented to the Mueller grand jury inaccessible to the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry. Trump has appealed all these cases, and now the only place left for them to go is the Supreme Court.

Lithwick explains how the actions of the Chief Justice will affect the course and outcome of the impeachment inquiry. Roberts may agree to put the cases affecting the president on the docket this term, but the decisions would likely not come down until late spring, too late for an impeachment proceeding to use the testimony of key witnesses and critical evidence gathered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. A delay will be of great advantage to Trump. But if Roberts decides to let the rulings of the lower courts stand, he would in effect be ruling against Trump. If the Supreme Court takes up the cases, the delay will slow down the Democrats’ momentum, adversely affecting their ability to influence public opinion, a critical factor in impeachment.

Will Roberts, now the swing vote on the Court, support Trump’s defiance of court orders and subpoenas? Will he support Trump’s assertion assertion of complete presidential immunity, not only from being indicted, but even from being investigated? With unlimited executive power, the president is personally above the law and free to countermand or defy established federal law and historical custom. The judiciary and the legislature are subservient to the imperial presidency, not co-equal as defined by the Constitution. Trump’s impeachment is about much more than the fate of his presidency. It is about the authority of the Constitution and the survival of American democracy.

At least once the Chief Justice ruled against the Republicans, when he found a way to keep Obamacare from foundering. He apparently understood that the Affordable Healthcare Act  was benefitting millions, and that they would not look kindly on Republicans who would take it away just as they had begun to have the ability to obtain medical care previously denied them.

I believe John Roberts cares about his legacy and the integrity of the Court. We’ll soon know if I am right.

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Impeach him. Now.

No, I’m not talking about impeaching President Trump. That is a knotty decision with excellent philosophical and legal arguments on one side and valid political and practical ones on the other.

AG William Barr

No, I’m talking about the prime law enforcement officer of the United States, William Barr, the Attorney General. He lied to the American public and apparently committed perjury when testifying to Congress. These are crimes that call out for impeachment, unless Barr resigns immediately.

Special Counsel Robert S. MuellerPhoto credit: USAToday

On April 10, Barr was asked in a Senate hearing whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller agreed with his summary of the results of Mueller’s investigation and his conclusions. Barr testified before the Senate that he didn’t know. That statement was not truthful. We now know that Mueller had written to Barr on March 27, three days after Barr had released his “summary,” that he did not agree with Barr’s conclusions. Mueller wrote to Barr that his memo “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the probe and the Report.

Barr misrepresented both sections of the Mueller Report. In the second section, Mueller clearly documented 10 instances of Trump’s obstruction of justice. If anyone but the president had committed even one of these acts, (s)he would have been indicted. Mueller specifically said in the Report that he could not directly accuse the president of a crime because the Department of Justice has ruled that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

[W]e determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes…. Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought.

“Accordingly,” Mueller wrote, “while this report does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In his four-page memo, Barr directly contradicted Mueller on that point, saying that Mueller had not been influenced in any way by that DOJ ruling. Even more significantly, Barr wrote that there was evidence both for and against obstruction in the Report, but he had determined that there was no obstruction, thus giving Trump the pretext to proclaim, falsely, again and again, “No collusion, no obstruction.”

Mueller also condemned the delayed release of the Report, which allowed the misinformation that Barr had propagated to marinate and solidify in the minds of the public. In his letter to Barr, Mueller complained that

There’s now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department of Justice appointed the Special Counsel, which is to assure full public confidence in the outcomes of the investigations.”

And by extension, to undermine public confidence in the Department of Justice itself and the rule of law.

The Russian connections with the Trump campaign are covered in the first section of the Report. Though there were many of these, Mueller was not able to prove conspiracy between the campaign and Russia. Collusion is not a legal term. Barr elided the distinction between collusion and conspiracy. He ignored the ongoing investigation of Roger Stone, who was trafficking in stolen documents with Wikileaks and the Russians. It’s possible Stone can’t be successfully prosecuted under the current statute, because our laws outdated: they don’t account for digital documents.

With his letter Mueller included redacted introductions and executive summaries from the Report that he and his staff had written for Barr to release to the public. Barr did no such thing. He had said publicly that he “was not interested” in releasing summaries of the Report, that he didn’t want to release it piecemeal.

Can there be any doubt that the Attorney General has violated the sacred trust placed in him by covering up the President’s crimes and deceiving the American public? William Barr cannot be trusted to oversee the remaining prosecutions (redacted) in the Mueller Report nor those that will arise from the corruption of Trump and his family.

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May 1, 2019 · 2:09 AM

Bring on the Mueller Report

Please, Counselor Mueller, show us your report
Barr’s letter is duller and much, much too short.

  For months we’ve been waiting,
  we’re all speculating.
  Now Barr's arrogating
  the right to decide, even hide,
  the fruits of your labors
  —This we can't abide!



Barr’s stalling,
stonewalling,
appalling!
We need to see what you wrote.
Barr's conclusions are spurious,
they make us furious.
His excuses won’t float.

Now
Subpoenas are flying,
There'll be no denying.
Nadler is on it, Schiff and Cummings too--

Show us, show us, show us what is true!

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Filed under Politics, Resistance

The unbearable mystery of Mueller

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller
Photo credit: USAToday

For almost two years Democrats waited with apprehension and Republicans with dread for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to conclude his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. When the day finally came, Attorney General William Barr received the report. Two days later, he summarized the conclusions in a four-page letter. Republicans were elated, Democrats were stunned, and the president was jubilant.

Barr wrote that Mueller found neither Trump nor members of his campaign had conspired with the Russians. 

But the other charge, obstruction of justice, remained unresolved. Mueller wrote

while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him [emphasis mine]. 

Whereupon Barr took it upon himself, in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, to go where the Mueller Report had not. He concluded that President Trump had not obstructed justice, despite Mueller’s refusal to exonerate him. 

Why did Special Counsel Mueller decide not to decide? Prosecutors normally prosecute.

A Special Prosecutor is appointed when an important investigation demands that it be led by someone deemed to be completely independent and resistant to countervailing political winds. By not resolving the question of Trump’s obstruction of justice, Mueller obviated the purpose of having an apolitical Special Counsel. The final decision now falls to a Trump appointee, the Attorney General, or Congress, which is nothing if not political. 

Barr is hardly unbiased. Before his nomination, he wrote an unsolicited memo that called Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation “fatally misconceived.” Barr wrote that, given the executive power inherent in the office, it is impossible for the president to obstruct justice. It was completely within Trump’s powers as head of the executive branch, Barr wrote, to ask FBI Director James Comey to go easy on then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and fire Comey for his suggestion that the President had acted inappropriately.  

Barr believes that there cannot be obstruction without an underlying crime. Once Mueller cleared Trump of collusion, the underlying crime was gone, so ipso facto  Trump could not be obstructing justice.

It was clear early on that members of the Trump campaign had meetings with Russian nationals and tried to hide and then deny those actions. The infamous June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower was one of these. It was attended by three senior members of the Trump campaign (Donald Trump Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort) and a Russian government lawyer. Trump Jr had written that he would love to receive opposition research on Hilary Clinton from the Russians. Trump and his aides concocted several stories to explain the meeting, but none of the lies was able to withstand the truth eventually uncovered by tireless journalists.

We also know that during the campaign the president was working on a lucrative business deal, the erection of a Trump Tower in Moscow. Was he compromised by his eagerness to do business with Putin? Was making lots of money the only motive for Trump’s deference to the Russians?

Did Mueller fail to draw a conclusion because it might have prejudiced ongoing investigations he had referred to other jurisdictions? Would a conclusion have contaminated the jury pool for a future grand jury?

The Democrats will have to choke on these questions and more until, if ever, the full report is released. House committees may carry on the multiple investigations they have begun. They may call Mueller to testify, despite Barr’s opposition.

But if the Dems are wise, they will concentrate on giving the voters what they want. Healthcare leads the list. Trump may have given Democrats a gift by proposing to completely repeal the ACA / Obamacare. Voters are much more interested in the bread-and-butter issues that affect them directly every day than they are in the political bickering in Washington. 

If American democracy can withstand the Trumpian onslaughts, an accurate history of the Trump era will one day be written.

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Trump’s elusive wall


Trump promoting his wall -USA Today

Donald Trump needs The Wall that he’s been hawking since he entered the presidential race, but the Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, won’t let him have it. Like a spoiled brat who can’t get his way, the President had a tantrum. He retaliated by shutting down the government.

Donald Trump hates to admit he made a mistake. He rarely apologizes. Now he’s boxed himself in by saying he won’t reopen the government that he himself shut down unless he gets his Wall, but the Democrats are standing firmly against a wall they say would be ineffective. Negotiations are at an impasse. Trump is holding 800,000 federal workers hostage to something that began as a mnemonic device, a way to remember what he was supposed to say.

Why is Trump so enthralled by his Wall?

Before he officially became a candidate, Trump’s political advisers realized that immigration would resonate with conservatives and unemployed workers left behind in a growing economy that did not need their skills. In order to keep the easily distracted candidate on message, his handlers hit upon The Wall — a simple concept, an easy-to-remember four-letter word. It appealed to Trump the Builder — Build the Wall! — and the crowd’s enthusiastic response to the slogan converted it to a meme that has practically become a symbol for Trump himself.

The Trump Tower escalator descended with the aspiring candidate to a waiting crowd so that a beaming Trump could announce his candidacy. He described the evils he said were afflicting the country and attributed them mostly to immigrants who he said were invaders that arrived in hordes at the southern border. To stymie them Trump envisioned a “beautiful” Wall he would erect to “Make America Great Again” by walling out undesirables. America for Americans! (Never mind that America was built by immigrants and most Americans are descended from them.)

The Wall has become a convenient way for Trump to distract the country when new revelations from the Mueller investigation grab the headlines or challenge his version of events.

Now Trump has seized on the expedient of declaring a national emergency so that he will be able to use expanded executive power. The White House is looking for options like using military manpower and funds designated for other projects. The Pentagon may not look favorably on losing funds needed perhaps to build new barracks.

Democrats will lose no time before they challenge Trump in court. The president cannot overrule Congress by appropriating funds for a project it has not approved without precipitating a constitutional crisis. We are again in uncharted waters.


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Mending Wall by Ben East

Author, teacher and diplomat Ben East reflects on two dissimilar walls: one a poem by Robert Frost, the other the obsession of Donald Trump. With admiration and his permission I am reblog it below.

Only 2,000 Miles to Go

Robert Frost’s great poem, outwardly a critique on a pre-existing wall, arguably has little to do with the hypothetical wall being proffered today.

But Frost’s wall stands for so much more, and the critique applies more universally than merely to stone piled on stone. The critique can be said to include any barrier that divides us. The critique includes blind adherence to tradition. The critique marvels at the depravity and ignorance displayed by our fellow man.

I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

Frost’s narrator, in his easy country voice, recognizes that nature itself opposes these barriers. Hunters or weather or the invisible hand of the outdoors, the ordinary stuff of time’s passage, work in concert against the wall.

The narrator resonates common sense in questioning why his neighbor would rebuild the wall between their properties. And this same good sense reveals the answer: the neighbor is an individual of dim intellect and long habits.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

I’ve always loved this poem. Today I love it more than ever. I hear in this lament the nation’s former poet laureate snickering at today’s gross display of race-baiting, fear-mongering, ignorance, and megalomania.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…

Mending Wall
-Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

_____________________________________________________

Ben East published his first novel, Two Pumps for the Body Man (New Pulp Press, 2016), as a Bush-Cheney era black comedy. Set in Saudi Arabia, Two Pumps does for American diplomacy and the War on Terror what Catch-22 did for military logic during the Second World War. 

His second novel, Patchworks (Moonshine Cove Publishing, Sept 2017), examines American gun culture in a similar light.

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Can Trump declare a state of emergency?

photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Upon reading Elizabeth Goitein’s “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency” in The Atlantic, my dismay spurred me to write the previous post. In “Our democracy may not be as robust as we think,” I considered a few of the disasters Trump would be empowered to inflict on the American public by declaring a state of emergency.

After publishing the post, I began to read The New York Times, and almost immediately came upon Bruce Ackerman’s “No, Trump Cannot Declare an ‘Emergency’ to Build His Wall,” The title promised to contradict all I had written based on Goitein’s article.

But Ackerman’s article was nuanced.

He refers to laws that would seem to prevent the president from suspending civil liberties and imposing martial law or build his wall. The first is a provision in a statute of 1878 that expressly forbids the willful use of “any part of the Army or the Air Force to execute a law domestically” unless “authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress.” Then he refers to another statute from 1807 that directs the secretary of defense to “ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel)” will “not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity … unless authorized by law.”

Would Trump respect these statutes? For that matter, is he even aware of them? Is anyone in his cabinet or on his staff sufficiently conversant with the law to attempt to curb his illegal impulses? We have seen Trump compose executive orders and issue commands without seeking legal advice, unaware that he may be violating the Constitution or the laws of the land. His M.O. is “Act first, think later (if ever).” Knowing the presidency confers great power, Trump seems to think there are no restraints. If he were to declare an emergency, there would be a delay before the courts or Congress could thwart him. 

Ackerman admits that the laws he refers to “do contain a series of carefully crafted exceptions to the general rule.” He concedes that Trump might take advantage of the exception which authorizes the military to detain suspected terrorists. That’s not a stretch, since the President has repeatedly characterized migrants who cross the border illegally as terrorists.

But Ackerman believes that “it is an unconscionable stretch to use this proviso to support using the military for operations against the desperate refugees from Central America seeking asylum in our country.” It is “unconscionable” for a moral and compassionate person, but Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he is neither. He has already gassed them.

The National Emergencies Act “formalize[s] the power of Congress to provide certain checks and balances on the emergency powers of the President,” writes Ackerman. It gives the House the right to rescind a state of emergency declared by the president and requires the Senate to ratify within 15 days. It seems foolishly optimistic to trust that the the legislators in the current divided Congress could come together in both houses long enough to pass a resolution.

Yet, in a neat twist of logic, Ackerman argues that Congress would intervene:

Since President Trump’s “emergency” declaration would be a direct response to his failure to convince Congress that national security requires his wall, it is hard to believe that a majority of the Senate, if forced to vote, would accept his show of contempt for their authority.

Hmm. That remains to be seen.

Finally, Ackerman concedes that, despite the legal obstacles that confront him, Trump could well declare a state of emergency. “He will likely take the most irresponsible path possible, issuing his ‘national emergency’ through a tweet or a question-begging written pronunciamento.”

We have reason to be very concerned.

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Our democracy may not be as robust as we think

Imagine an internet that restricts access to certain websites, including social media platforms; search engines programmed to return only positive results to queries for “Trump”; email that is monitored, censored, even blocked. Does that sound fanciful, an impossibility in our American democracy? Perhaps. Yet the threat is real. 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The current issue of The Atlantic has an alarming report written by Elizabeth Goitein, the Co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at The Brennan Center for Justice. Goitein delineates the formidable emergency powers that are available to the president during a national emergency. The article, “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency,” is an eye-opener. Everyone should read it.

By announcing the mere threat of war, for example, the president could assume control of all communications, most likely including the internet. He could do so by invoking a law that has been on the books since 1942, when fears of invasion during World War II justified extraordinary executive power. Though it didn’t exist when the law was written, the internet today is a vital component of communications.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law has tallied 123 statutory provisions that grant the president broad emergency powers the moment he declares an emergency. Moreover, the president himself may determine what constitutes an emergency, because the statutes do not define it. In addition, there is no judicial review, nor a requirement that Congress ratify the president’s appropriation of exceptional power. Though Congress could vote to end the state of emergency with a two-thirds, veto-proof majority in both houses, what are the chances of that happening today?

The Insurrection Act of 1807, modified over the years, allows the president to employ military troops to enforce the authority of the federal government in cases of lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion. Trump could deploy armed forces domestically wherever he saw fit, because the statute does not define the specific conditions that constitute an emergency. The law is vague enough that Trump could, for example, authorize tanks to patrol the streets, rounding up political protesters and undocumented migrants. President Eisenhower invoked this law in 1957 to enforce desegregation of the schools in Arkansas with federal troops.

Authoritarians routinely declare states of emergency to impose their will forcefully on their people. Trump admires tyrants like Turkey’s Erdoğan and Duterte of the Philippines — why wouldn’t he follow their examples? After all, Trump is not inhibited by respect for or even knowledge of the law or of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Trump continues to attack the free press because it persists in calling him to account. The President riles up his followers and advocates the imprisonment of a political rival. He denies Muslims entry to the U.S. Clearly, Trump has no reverence for the basic freedoms of the press, speech and religion. Gotein cites Geoffrey R. Stone, a constitutional-law scholar at the University of Chicago, who observed that “It would not take much to upset the [Supreme Court’s] current understanding of the First Amendment.” 

“Indeed,” Goitein remarks wryly, “all it would take is five Supreme Court justices whose commitment to presidential power exceeds their commitment to individual liberties.”

Presidents in living memory have exercised emergency powers. Citing imminent threat to America, President Franklin Roosevelt defied the Constitution by interning U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. More recently, President George W. Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping and torture after 9/11.

In view of the latent perils to democracy that are now immediately available to President Trump, Gotein urges the American public to inform itself. We must insist that Congress repeal obsolete laws and limit the ones that contain the potential for abuse. The newly Democratic House must begin the review process in committees so that a future Democratic Senate can ratify the changes.

The time to act is now, before Trump or another president declares an emergency that gives him limitless power.

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A Blue Wave after all

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The immediate aftermath of the midterm elections left me uneasy, unable to fully celebrate the Democratic control of the U.S. House, despite my conviction before the election that without a Democratic victory in the House, democracy in America would surely be doomed.

The superstars, Stacy Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke were counted out as most returns were tallied on Wednesday. But high hopes dashed on Wednesday were revived by the weekend.

Andrew Gillum gave his concession speech on Thursday when it seemed he would not be Florida’s governor. But on Saturday, he took it back. Gillum and Stacy Abrams in Georgia are striving mightily against Republican opposition to have all votes counted and recounted in their races for the governor’s mansion. Both are close enough to trigger recounts. The same holds for the senate race in Florida.

As the vote counting continued, a Blue Tide began to wash over Republican-held seats, growing in size and strength. The House majority kept growing, and close races drew even closer. Democrats needed 23 seats to gain a majority in the House. As late vote counts rolled in, they garnered 32 seats, with 10 still not called.

The Blue Wave asserted itself: Democrats won 367 congressional seats— more than the Tea Party had in 2010. They flipped seven governorships, including in solid red Kansas (where they also captured a House seat). And when Florida and Georgia are finally finished counting and recounting, Democrats may gain one or two more governors.

Democrats scored trifectas — winning both houses of the state legislature and the governor — in six states: Colorado, Maine, Illinois, New York, New Mexico and Nevada. They will have full control in 13 states; the Republicans in 21.

Victories in state elections are important. State governments strongly influence health care, taxes, immigration and climate change in their states. They control redistricting, which is pivotal today, because gerrymandering currently causes Democrats to lose elections and seats, despite winning the popular vote.

Republican Martha McSally at first appeared to have won Jeff Flake’s senate seat in Arizona, but when all votes were counted a week after Election Day, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema became the first woman Arizona would send to the Senate and the first Democratic senator elected by the state in three decades.

The country moved left. Even in races the Republicans won, Democrats gained ground. As in 2016, Democrats won the popular vote. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke roused enthusiasm and came close to winning with a tremendous number of Democratic votes in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat since Ann Richards became governor in 1991.

More reasons to celebrate the 2018 midterms:

  • Americans were more engaged than ever in the elections. They voted in record numbers, more than in any midterm since 1914.
  • They elected more than 100 women.
  • The new class of representatives is more diverse than any of its predecessors, including two Native American and two Muslim women.
  • They are young, and have lowered the average age of representatives by a decade.

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Will 2018 election results reflect the will of the people?

BallotBoxThe highly anticipated midterm elections of 2018 are less than two weeks away. There is general agreement that the election is extremely important, because the United States is at a crossroads. President Trump has snubbed traditional allies and cosied up to the usual adversaries. He has withdrawn from treaties that were painstakingly drawn up over a period of years. He has levied tariffs where once there was free trade. Until October, the stock market was soaring. Less than two weeks before the election, all the gains of 2018 have been wiped out. His tax cuts have ballooned the deficit to record-setting heights.

Democrats are hoping to regain control of Congress, but it won’t be easy, even though there are significantly more Democrats than Republicans. Republicans, however, vote in greater numbers than Democrats. Another complicating factor is that Democrats are clustered in densely populated cities while many Republicans are in sparsely populated rural areas, making a Republican vote worth significantly more than a Democratic one. For example, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was re-elected with 111,000 votes; Democratic Chuck Schumer of New York was re-elected with 4.8 million votes. Yet they have equal power in the Senate.

Active voter suppression has wiped Democrats off the rolls in record numbers. State legislators with Republican majorities are writing new voter ID laws with the intent to disenfranchise people of color, because they tend to vote Democratic. The Republican governor of Georgia has purged hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters from the rolls. Of course, it also works the other way. Republicans are vulnerable too. In Alaska, new residency rules are designed to disenfranchise the Native Americans that were crucial to Sen. Murkowski’s victory in 2012.

This tactic is not new. It was employed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made it illegal. But in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that the Act relied on antiquated data and struck down its most effective provisions. Within five years of that decision, close to a thousand polling places were gone, most of them in predominantly African-American counties.

Free elections are still threatened by Russian meddling. Given what we now know, it may have swung the 2016 election to Donald Trump. The U.S. intelligence services are certain that the Russians continue to interfere, trying to influence the outcome of the election.

There is another, more sinister factor to consider: election results may be skewed domestically. We have no way to guarantee the accuracy of ballot counting, because the counting is not observable. Vote counting, once done in public view, now takes place out of sight, inside of computer chips. Jonathan Simon argues forcefully that what has happened to American democracy under Donald Trump and the Republicans may have a simple explanation.

Simon believes that tampering with electronic vote counting  may account for America’s dramatic shift to the right, considering that a majority of the electorate is centrist and did not vote for Donald Trump. By computerizing the electoral process we have made it extremely easy to alter the results. It’s no longer necessary to stuff ballot boxes with paper ballots or change 10,000 votes by hand. A machine can do that efficiently in seconds. A programmer or hacker can steal the election by inserting a few lines of code into the hundreds of thousands of lines of code and achieve the desired result with minimal risk of detection.

“This amounts to a rolling coup that is transforming America while disenfranchising an unsuspecting public,” Simon writes in “Code Red: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy.” Simon’s declared reason for writing the book is to alert the public to what he sees as a danger to democracy and the Republic that is far greater than gerrymandering and voter suppression. He wants to spur people into action before we can no longer vote our way out.

Simon asks,

Why do we collectively and so blithely assume that hundreds of millions of votes counted in secret, on partisan-produced and -controlled equipment, will be counted honestly and that the public trust will be honored to the exclusion of any private agenda, however compelling?!

Think about it.

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Pipe bombs and the crackup of the Union

Americans awoke this morning to the news that pipe bombs had been mailed to prominent political people. Not just any politicians— no Republicans, only Democrats and Trump’s favorite targets.

In his tweets and at his rallies, Trump has threatened and vilified Hillary Clinton, leading chants to “Lock her up!” He denied Barack Obama’s legitimacy, for years insisting that he was not born in the U.S., and has been dismantling every achievement of his predecessor since his first day in office. George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and major Democratic donor, has been accused by Trump and the Right-Wing extremists of master-minding conspiracies against the U.S. and the world order. Trump has consistently disparaged the media, in particular, the publications that have criticized him, news organs like CNN and the New York Times. George Brennan, former Director of the C.I.A., has been outspokenly critical of Trump, and the President retaliated by stripping him of his security clearance.

Except for the NY Times, all of the above were recipients of bombs sent to their homes. Brennan’s was sent to CNN offices in New York.

We have a head of state who not only condones violence, but incites it. Since the days of his campaign, when he defended and encouraged his supporters that punched protesters, promising to pay their legal bills, the rabble-rouser-in-chief continues to stoke the fury of his followers, encouraging them to ravage the foundational principles of American democracy.

The country that prided itself on being a nation of laws is devolving into the misrule of chaos and hate. Trump campaigned on a pledge to destroy the existing order, and for perhaps for the only time, he is keeping his word. Rather than Making America Great Again, Trump is presiding over the disintegration of lawful society.

The political parties no longer work to reach compromises that further the greater good. Rather, they reflect the stark division of Trumpists determined to rend the fragile fabric of democracy and their opponents who want to conserve and build on the achievements of the bold experiment started over 200 years ago.

Update: Later in the day, more bombs were discovered. They were sent to Eric Holder, Obama’s attorney general and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

 

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Cut Joe Manchin some slack

JoeManchinMany Democrats are excoriating  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) for betraying Democrats by voting yes to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Gail Collins, for example, writes in the NYTimes

Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, didn’t care and took a dive. It’s a real shame. This is a senator whose he-man image is so critical to his identity that he always runs campaign ads in which he shoots offensive legislation with a rifle.

I admire and follow Collins, but this is just wrong-headed.

First, the easy part. Manchin is a West Virginian. Like most people in his state, Manchin believes people have a right to own and carry guns. By shooting a rifle in his campaign ads, Manchin cements his relationship with his constituents. He has, however, bucked his party by opposing legislation that would impose restrictions on automatic weapons sales and a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines.

More important is the fact that West Virginia is the state that gave Trump his greatest margin in 2016, and Manchin is up for re-election in a few weeks. He is ahead in the polls, but if he had voted against Kavanaugh, he would very likely lose his seat in November. Democrats can’t take that risk if they want to win control of the Senate. By gaining the majority, Democrats would also control all the committees. Imagine how Kavanaugh would have fared if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had chaired the Senate Judicial Committee with a Democratic majority. (see Only 2 Republican votes to defeat Kavanaugh?)

Once Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced her vote in favor of Kavanaugh, his confirmation was assured. It would have been incredibly stupid for Manchin to sacrifice himself on the altar of a lost cause.

Now that the votes are in, the issue is a little more complicated. Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48. He had 49 Republican votes plus Manchin’s one. Two Republican senators did not vote. One was Steve Daines (R-MT). He had previously announced that he would be at his daughter’s wedding on Saturday, the day of the vote. The other senator was Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the only Republican with the courage to buck her party. She had announced that she couldn’t support Kavanaugh. But Murkowski didn’t vote no, as expected. She didn’t vote. I suspect she didn’t want to be the deciding vote, the only Republican to vote against Kavanaugh. If Collins had voted no, Murkowski and Manchin and possibly others could have covered each other by voting no together.

As it turned out, if Manchin had voted with the Democrats, the vote would have been tied, 49-49, and Vice President Mike Pence would have broken the tie, giving Kavanaugh his confirmation. Manchin’s vote would not have made a difference.

 

 

 

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And now, Justice Kavanaugh

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Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) put the icing on the cake. The confirmation was baked in long ago: the path to a fifth conservative seat on the Supreme Court was in the works for at least 30 years. (Remember Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority?)

Before Dr. Christine Basley Ford described the sexual assault she had suffered in high school at a specially convened hearing of the Senate Judicial Committee, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that the Senate would “plow” through to a certain confirmation. But when Ford described her ordeal, she moved and impressed not only the senators, but the president, with her authenticity. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation no longer looked like a sure thing.

Then Kavanaugh testified. Red-faced, he wept and he raged. Furious, he accused the Democrats of plotting a “calculated and orchestrated political hit,” fueled by “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election.” But “what goes around comes around,” he said, apparently foreseeing vengeful retribution against the Democrats.

Following the hearing, people were appalled at Kavanaugh’s injudicious lack of control, his partisanship, fury and unseemly demeanor. The American Bar Association and the Yale Law School withdrew their endorsements pending a further investigation by the FBI. Close to 1,000 professors of law wrote to the Senate that Kavanaugh lacks the judicial temperament required for a seat on the Supreme Court.

The Republicans, all men, identified with Kavanaugh. They said they believed Ford had been sexually assaulted, yet contrived a way to exonerate Kavanaugh and justify voting for him. They began to poke holes in Ford’s testimony, pointing to her inability to remember details such as the address of the house, who took her home and the like. The people Ford named as being at the party couldn’t recall the party, much less the attack. All the evidence the senators chose to examine was gleaned from the severely limited FBI investigation. It was not enough to identify Kavanaugh as Ford’s aggressor. There was only Ford’s word. It didn’t occur to the men that a woman who had been sexually assaulted would have a powerful and excruciatingly present memory of the event, if not the superfluous details, while others present would have no reason to remember what was for them one unremarkable party among many. Once again, the woman was silenced, her searing testimony almost beside the point.

Within days, the debate shifted. Kavanaugh’s lack of judicial temperament, his lying under oath and his fierce partisanship replaced the sexual assault as the principal reasons to deny him a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court.

In the end, however, Kavanaugh’s unsuitability was tamped down by the overwhelming desire to hold on to power. Republicans have an extremely thin majority in the Senate. In the event of a Democratic victory in the imminent midterm elections, they would lose not only one or both houses of Congress, but the ability to establish a conservative majority in the Court that could endure for decades to come.

So Ford exposed her private torment to the world, and for what? For nothing, as she herself had feared?

Well, no, not entirely. Women heard her and their own buried traumas rose to torment them. All across the country women clamored to bear witness. They marched and spoke and wrote and pounded on the doors of their representatives. 

Many men listened to them. Amazed by their number, they confessed they had no idea that sexual assault was such a widespread problem. The #metoo phenomenon, just a year old, came roaring back.

Now that women’s and Democrats’ efforts have failed to prevent the elevation to a lifetime appointment of a judge whose convictions threaten the progress already made, what comes next?

Keep striving. We have to believe that though we have undoubtedly suffered a setback, we have the strength to reclaim lost ground and continue to advance into a more equitable future for all Americans.

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David Brock recalls Brett Kavanaugh’s key role in the Starr investigation

After Judge Kavanaugh’s first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in pursuit of a seat on the Supreme Court, David Brock (former arch-conservative, now reformed) spoke with NBC. Brock told NBC about his experience with the judge when Kavanaugh was a key assistant to Ken Starr during the investigation of Bill Clinton. “Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign,”

I used to know Brett Kavanaugh pretty well. And, when I think of Brett now, in the midst of his hearings for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, all I can think of is the old “Aesop’s Fables” adage: “A man is known by the company he keeps.”

And that’s why I want to tell any senator who cares about our democracy: Vote no.

Twenty years ago, when I was a conservative movement stalwart, I got to know Brett Kavanaugh both professionally and personally.

Brett actually makes a cameo appearance in my memoir of my time in the GOP, “Blinded By The Right.” I describe him at a party full of zealous young conservatives gathered to watch President Bill Clinton’s 1998 State of the Union address — just weeks after the story of his affair with a White House intern had broken. When the TV camera panned to Hillary Clinton, I saw Brett — at the time a key lieutenant of Ken Starr, the independent counsel investigating various Clinton scandals — mouth the word “bitch.”

But there’s a lot more to know about Kavanaugh than just his Pavlovian response to Hillary’s image. Brett and I were part of a close circle of cold, cynical and ambitious hard-right operatives being groomed by GOP elders for much bigger roles in politics, government and media. And it’s those controversial associations that should give members of the Senate and the American public serious pause.

Call it Kavanaugh’s cabal: There was his colleague on the Starr investigation, Alex Azar, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Mark Paoletta is now chief counsel to Vice President Mike Pence; House anti-Clinton gumshoe Barbara Comstock is now a Republican member of Congress. Future Fox News personalities Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson were there with Ann Coulter, now a best-selling author, and internet provocateur Matt Drudge.

At one time or another, each of them partied at my Georgetown townhouse amid much booze and a thick air of cigar smoke.

In a rough division of labor, Kavanaugh played the role of lawyer — one of the sharp young minds recruited by the Federalist Society to infiltrate the federal judiciary with true believers. Through that network, Kavanaugh was mentored by D.C. Appeals Court Judge Laurence Silberman, known among his colleagues for planting leaks in the press for partisan advantage.

When, as I came to know, Kavanaugh took on the role of designated leaker to the press of sensitive information from Starr’s operation, we all laughed that Larry had taught him well. (Of course, that sort of political opportunism by a prosecutor is at best unethical, if not illegal.)

Another compatriot was George Conway (now Kellyanne’s husband), who led a secretive group of right-wing lawyers — we called them “the elves” — who worked behind the scenes directing the litigation team of Paula Jones, who had sued Clinton for sexual harassment. I knew then that information was flowing quietly from the Jones team via Conway to Starr’s office — and also that Conway’s go-to man was none other than Brett Kavanaugh.

That critical flow of inside information allowed Starr, in effect, to set a perjury trap for Clinton, laying the foundation for a crazed national political crisis and an unjust impeachment over a consensual affair.

But the cabal’s godfather was Ted Olson, the then-future solicitor general for George W. Bush and now a sainted figure of the GOP establishment (and of some liberals for his role in legalizing same-sex marriage). Olson had a largely hidden role as a consigliere to the “Arkansas Project” — a multi-million dollar dirt-digging operation on the Clintons, funded by the eccentric right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and run through “The American Spectator” magazine, where I worked at the time.

Both Ted and Brett had what one could only be called an unhealthy obsession with the Clintons — especially Hillary. While Ted was pushing through the Arkansas Project conspiracy theories claiming that Clinton White House lawyer and Hillary friend Vincent Foster was murdered (he committed suicide), Brett was costing taxpayers millions by peddling the same garbage at Starr’s office.

A detailed analysis of Kavanaugh’s own notes from the Starr Investigation reveals he was cherry-picking random bits of information from the Starr investigation — as well as the multiple previous investigations — attempting vainly to legitimize wild right-wing conspiracies. For years he chased down each one of them without regard to the emotional cost to Foster’s family and friends, or even common decency.

Kavanaugh was not a dispassionate finder of fact but rather an engineer of a political smear campaign. And after decades of that, he expects people to believe he’s changed his stripes.

Like millions of Americans this week, I tuned into Kavanaugh’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee with great interest. In his opening statement and subsequent testimony, Kavanaugh presented himself as a “neutral and impartial arbiter” of the law. Judges, he said, were not players but akin to umpires — objectively calling balls and strikes. Again and again, he stressed his “independence” from partisan political influences.

But I don’t need to see any documents to tell you who Kavanaugh is — because I’ve known him for years. And I’ll leave it to all the lawyers to parse Kavanaugh’s views on everything from privacy rights to gun rights. But I can promise you that any pretense of simply being a fair arbiter of the constitutionality of any policy regardless of politics is simply a pretense. He made up his mind nearly a generation ago — and, if he’s confirmed, he’ll have nearly two generations to impose it upon the rest of us.

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s wrong with Kavanaugh?

KavanaughSneerLet me count the ways.

Mueller is closing in, so Trump elevated Brett Kavanaugh above the other candidates for the Supreme Court to protect himself. Kavanaugh believes there can be no limit set on executive power: the president may not be indicted nor his greed restrained. As Nixon said, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” Trump’s ambition and rapacity would be unfettered with no opposition from SCOTUS.

Almost 200 congressional Democrats filed a federal lawsuit last year charging that Trump was illegally profiteering from his businesses. That suit was just given a green light as was another, that Trump was violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, DC. Trump will soon need Kavanaugh to protect him from the sanctions of the co-equal branches of government.

Women, of course, stand to lose the most if Kavanaugh is confirmed. The judge is in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, greatly hobbling a woman’s ability to determine whether and when to have children and therefore be able to make a life for herself without depending on husband or father.

The differences in opinion between the far right that wants to put women back in the kitchen and progressives who believe that society suffers when half the population is not able to contribute its talents to the common good are philosophical and tightly held. The place of religion, the rights of non-white citizens, immigration, gay marriage, traditions that glorify the antebellum South, all contribute to a rancorous divisiveness that alienates the two Americas as never before since the Civil War.

But we knew all that before the profoundly moving confrontation between the presentations of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Thursday’s Senate hearing solidified the positions of both sides, though Dr. Ford impressed even the president and his sycophants with her careful, sincere and clearly difficult testimony. At the very least, Republicans knew it was politically expedient not to further alienate women, to admire her courage and acknowledge the pain she confessed before the entire country.

Then it was Kavanaugh’s turn. I understand the disappointment, the anger, of scrabbling to the peak of judicial accomplishment only to slip as you’re cresting the summit and plummet into an irretrievable abyss. Republicans felt Kavanaugh was justified in venting his rage, especially since he and they felt cheated and out-maneuvered.

Still, I was appalled at Kavanaugh’s complete loss of control and composure. This man who aspires to the pinnacle of his profession lapsed into a tantrum, belligerently lashing out and crying in the manner of a spoiled child whose promised toy was snatched from his hands. For a man in his position with so much at stake, as a prospective justice, he should certainly have exerted self-control.

Not bothering to hide or disguise his contempt for Democrats, for the hearing or for the U.S. senators who asked him questions that he clearly thought were beneath him, he failed a test of coolness under fire. He was rude. He sneered and snarled at Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)— both women— and did not deign to answer their questions. He went so far as to throw their questions back at them, and when Feinstein pressed him, he broke his silence by saying he’d already answered the question and then again persisted in his non-answers.

He was about as partisan and petulant as a judge could be expected not to be:

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

To questions about his alleged behavior when drinking too much, Kavanaugh proudly threw out his academic achievements. He seems to think that his Ivy degrees will shield him from any accusations of impropriety. When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked about a reference to drinking in his calendar, Kavanaugh deflected:

Senator, I was at the top of my class academically, busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got in Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got into Yale Law School. Worked my tail off.

Complete non sequitur. ‘I got into Yale’ isn’t a moral defense. But Kavanaugh tried it again when Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) recalled that Kavanaugh’s roommate described him as “a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time.” Kavanaugh’s response:

Senator, you were asking about college. I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number-one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.”

What we witnessed was a manchild who is sure that he is entitled to the ultimate prize for his hard work, that he deserves the prize because of the Yale degrees on his CV. He couldn’t control his rage because he is convinced of being cheated of that prize, falsely and spitefully accused of a sexual assault he insists he couldn’t possibly have committed then or ever.

Dr. Ford is “100 percent” certain he was her attacker and Kavanaugh is also 100 percent sure that he wasn’t. But the reason that this isn’t a simple “he said, she said” is that Ford suffered a traumatic event “forever seared” into her memory. For her, it was a singular, extraordinary experience. I do believe in due process, so I can’t say he is guilty, but I also believe that it is entirely possible for a man, especially under the influence of alcohol, not to remember something that for him was unremarkable, a possibly common occurrence.

Brett Kavanaugh’s refusal to answer questions at a hearing that he says he requested, his contemptuous, condescending interaction with U.S. senators, his demeaning treatment of women and his inappropriate, raging belligerence are reasons enough not to elevate him to the Supreme Court.

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Only 2 Republican votes to defeat Kavanaugh?

We keep hearing that the Democrats need only two Republicans to vote with them in order to sink the Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court. But there is a big, unspoken assumption in that strategy, namely, that Democrats will vote as one against the confirmation.

There is, I believe, a very good possibility that Democratic senators in blood-red states will buck their colleagues and vote to confirm.
Incumbents Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Manchin in West Virginia all have wrenching decisions to make. If they stick with their party and vote against confirmation, they will alienate their constituents and likely lose their races. But if they vote to confirm, they will make their constituents happy and thereby have much better chances to keep their seats and possibly help flip the Senate for the Dems.

Joe Manchin, for example, represents West Virginia, a state where Trump received close to 70 percent of the votes. His opponent, Republican General Patrick Morrisey, is one of 18 attorneys general who have joined a lawsuit against Obamacare. If they win the suit, coverage for pre-existing conditions will be terminated. The other senators named above are strongly committed to preserving what is left of the American Care Act. It behooves Democrats to keep Manchin and other red-state Dems in the Senate.
Besides, it is not at all certain that the two Republicans who might vote against Kavanaugh will in fact do so. Neither Susan Collins of Maine nor Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have signaled that they will defect and abandon their party. If just one of them votes to confirm, Democrats would need to find another Republican to vote with them. The same is true if even one, let alone four or five or more, of the red-state Democrats votes with the Republicans.
The odds against confirmation are very slim, so the red-state Democrats may see there is nothing to gain by falling on their swords when the battle is lost.

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Trump’s military parade

Military parade in Moscow, 2010

One way a despot controls dissent is with an ostentatious display of military force. An autocrat who loves gaudy extravagance, Trump was so impressed by the military parade he witnessed in Paris last year that he returned home and immediately demanded one of his own, a large-scale military parade rolling through the streets of Washington.

VoteVets, an association of veterans who know only too well what it takes to prepare for war and actually risk their lives, looks askance at Trump’s proposed jingoistic propaganda. The chairman and Iraq War veteran Jon Soltz wrote in an email, “This parade is not about honoring our military — it’s about using our military to honor Trump, a man who dishonors America and puts our country at risk.”

In 1991, Pres. George W. Bush had a parade to honor the vets returning victorious from the Persian Gulf War. That parade cost $12 million. A similar parade 27 years later would cost much more.

The streets of Washington were not built to withstand an onslaught of tanks and armored personnel carriers. Reportedly, it would cost at least as much as the parade to repair the damage to Pennsylvania Avenue and the rest of the parade route.

In February, even Trump-supporter Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-NY, told CNN, “I don’t believe we should have tanks or nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, tweeted that he supported a parade, but added his hope that “this parade will not focus on military hardware, but on military service, sacrifice, and saying ‘Thank You’ to those who protect our nation.”

In an apparent response to bipartisan objections, the Pentagon issued a planning memo in March, saying the parade will “include wheeled vehicles only, no tanks — consideration must be given to minimize damage to local infrastructure.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, told NBC  that the idea is a “fantastic waste of money to amuse the president.”

Soltz called it “a national embarrassment all conjured up to serve a weak president’s frail self-image…. a disgrace.”

If you agree, pressure your members of Congress to intervene and stymie Trump’s wet dream. Do it now— the parade is scheduled for November, probably on Veterans Day.

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Treason, period.

Front Page, New York Daily News, July 17, 2018

“I see no reason why Russia would [interfere with our election].” —Donald Trump in Helsinki, July 16.

“I meant to say  “wouldn’t” instead of “would”” —Donald Trump, reading from notes, White House, July 17.

Please! Don’t add insult to injury!

A frantic White House understood what the President didn’t. The country was shocked and furious that the U.S. president, standing next to Putin and speaking to the world, repudiated the findings of his own intelligence agencies and believed Putin’s “strong and powerful” denial that Russia had interfered in the U.S. 2016 election.

In the face of strong criticism from both parties, Trump’s associates somehow persuaded him to walk back his remarks. He read from a prepared statement, a giveaway that the remarks were not his, and certainly not from the heart. He never reads from notes at his rallies.

Expecting the public to believe that he misspoke, omitting a mere 3-letter word, after praising Putin and Russia, is too much. As he did after the Charlottesville, Va, racial confrontation, Trump could not bring himself to completely renounce his remarks. He defended his observation that there were “some very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville, saying there were people to blame on both sides. Now, as he  did then, Trump said that the U.S. was as much to blame as Russia.

New York’s “Daily News” front-page reaction shows Trump shooting Uncle Sam on Fifth Avenue while holding Putin’s hand. Trump once said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in plain sight and suffer no consequences. Up to now, he was right. We’ll see what happens after today’s uproar, whether the Republicans who were publicly stunned by the U.S. president blaming America for problems Russia created will swallow his explanation of behavior that they found disgraceful (one of Trump’s favorite terms of opprobrium).

I wonder, does Trump realize that Putin ate his lunch in Helsinki?

Putin 1 (or more), Trump 0.

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Who’s he working for, anyway?

Trump meets with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin alone with no one but a translator from the U.S. government. These two men are enemies of the U.S.— dictators who want to conserve and enlarge their arsenals of deadly weapons and cyber sabotage. Why does Trump want to keep their conversations and pledges secret? Why did he unilaterally agree to suspend the military training exercises that stave off the Russians and Chinese from our Pacific allies?

Who benefits from Trump’s sabotaging of the Trans Pacific Partnership, his intended evisceration of NATO and alienation of our faithful allies? Could it be North Korea, Russia and China? Not the U.S., for sure.

Trump levies “protective” tariffs on U.S.-made cars and agricultural products. Trump’s base is largely farmers in rural areas and workers who manufacture products like cars. Whom is he protecting? What does he think will happen to the American jobs he promised to increase? Will the farmers and workers he courted in his campaign continue to support him when they can’t sell their prohibitively expensive products abroad? Will they understand Trump’s role in rising prices for imports — how many times do you buy something that hasn’t been made in China?— and the subsequent spike in the cost of living?

He touts the health of the economy, taking the credit that belongs to Obama. What will the Base say when Trump’s soaring national debt and his tariffs take their inevitable toll? Will the coming recession be Obama’s fault?

He’s cut back on food stamps, made healthcare either more expensive or not affordable at all. Does he believe the “elites” rely on food stamps, Obamacare and Medicaid?

Your President isn’t working for you, Trumpists.

Will the truth ever percolate down to Trump’s base, or will the “alternate facts,” prevarications and out-and-out lies spouted by the dishonest “journalists” of Fox News, Trump’s enablers and Trump himself always continue to bamboozle the Trumpists who have drunk the CoolAid?

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One woman’s must-see video

MJ Hegar is a self-described ass-kicking, motorcycle-riding, Texas Democrat. She was a combat rescue pilot in Afghanistan until she was shot down and wounded on a mission. Several adventures later, Hegar is now trying to unseat the Texas Tea Party Congressman John Carter who refused to see her because she wasn’t one of his donors.

She calls her campaign video “Doors.” Doors she’s opened, shut, walked through, and doors slammed in her face. I’m posting her video, not to boost her candidacy, but because it’s impressively made about an even more impressive woman.

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Republicans finally resist Trump

https://www.nytimes.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000005960348
Was my previous post too cynical, too dark? Perhaps. But it is difficult to be positive when each day brings news of a new scandal in the Cabinet, trade wars, Trump’s mendacious fulminations, and scrambled foreign policy with rebuffs of our allies and embrace of tyrants.

Yet with all of this week’s horrors, there was one bright spot. Trump finally had to yield to the relentless entreaties of Congressional members to halt the forcible splintering of families. That is certainly a step forward, despite the inadequacy of the executive order. The President apparently caved because of the optics, realizing that when leading Republicans join Democrats in denouncing his barbarous policy, it’s time to change tactics.

The public outrage at the plight of the migrant children, inflamed by photos and the audio of their cries, was snowballing, forcing Republicans to realize that their hold on Congress could be jeopardized by their callousness. The Republicans who don’t dare criticize the President for fear of losing their seats could no longer stomach the anguished wailing of the caged children. They could see that the winds of public opinion were blowing against them. Politics, not compassion, drove Trump’s reversal, as was evident when he called undocumented immigrants “murderers and thieves” who want to “infest our country.” Brown people are not welcome in Trump’s America. He considers them vermin that must be stomped out by any means.

The migrant crisis at the southern border did have one salutary effect. It was the first time Congress defied the President. Republicans may have been shocked into action by the public reaction, worrying that it could swell into a wave that would imperil their hold on Congress. Or, more generously, they may have given in to their humanity. I wonder what it felt like. Will they be emboldened to resist the President the next time? Probably too much to ask.

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“This is not who we are” Really?

Wailing toddlers ripped from their mothers’ arms, pre-adolescents caged in detention camps, children warehoused like so many sacks of flour— horrors never seen before in the U.S. are happening now at our southern border.

Really? Never before? There was a time when we whipped slaves, broke up their families and tortured them into submission so their hard labor could fill American coffers. Slavery really happened. Native Americans were killed or driven from their lands to make way for the white man’s expansion across the continent. The natives who survived were penned up in “reservations.”

We are a land of immigrants, but we never welcomed them. Lady Liberty lifts her lamp before the Golden Door, but the passage into her arms was never easy. To succeed and live the American dream immigrants had to claw their way up.

Not who we are? Sixty-two million Americans voted for a racist, xenophobic, pussy-grabbing tyrant. Millions of Americans approve of Trump as he snubs and slurs our allies while he clearly admires dictators whose hands are bloodied by the murders of their own people.

Trump’s numbers, even in the face of his latest outrage, are going up. Nearly 90 percent of Republicans approve of what he is doing. Recently, his approval rating among all Americans has climbed above 40 percent. There may be more Democrats than Republicans, yet when over 40 percent of Americans approve of Trump, despite his racism,  cruelty and corruption, we cannot say “This is not who we are.”

I don’t think it was always like this. When the U.S. sent its sons to die for a cause, to liberate the Europeans under Hitler’s boot— not to gather booty or expand its territory, we could say “This is not who we are.” And yet, while American boys were fighting for people who lived across the ocean, here at home other Americans were being taken from their homes and made to live in detention camps.

No one can impugn our ideals. Our founding document proclaims that all men are created equal. Though women and people of color are not mentioned or included, we have been working for over two centuries on the inclusivity of that ideal. Americans live in liberty and are free to pursue their happiness. Just not all Americans. Not all the time.

Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) implores his colleagues to end the inhuman brutality that the migrant children and their parents are suffering. These children need to be with their parents, just like all children. “Anything else,” he says, “is cruelty in its purest form.”

Fortunately, some Republicans are recognizing that this is not a political problem. It is a national emergency. Today, the protests and anguished cries finally made the President capitulate. He has ordered that families not be separated, but interned together. Only some of the more than 2,300 children in camps will be reunited with their parents. Homeland Security and the other agencies were not prepared to keep track of where the children were sent and with whom they belonged.

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Women vault from the military to the ballot box

A SALUTE TO WOMEN VETERANS TRAILBLAZING A PATH FROM THE MILITARY TO PUBLIC OFFICE

By Diane Vacca

Reblogged from Women’s Voices for Change

Knowing she had to come down smoothly with a single engine and 149 people aboard, Captain Tammie Jo Shults deftly guided her crippled aircraft while reassuring her passengers that the plane was descending, not going down. She warned that they would come down hard, but instead, “she didn’t slam it down. She brought the bird down very carefully.” Passenger Alfred Tumlinson admired the pilot’s cool (“She has nerves of steel”) and the emergency landing that saved the lives of almost all aboard the Southwest Airlines plane whose engine exploded in April. The single fatality was the woman who had been blown halfway out a window broken by shrapnel from the explosion. Once safely on the ground, Shults modestly thanked the air traffic controllers for their help and walked through the plane, talking to each passenger and shaking every hand, according to Tumlinson.

Shults knew what she wanted at an early age. “Some people grow up around aviation. I grew up under it,” she said. Living near Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, she was fascinated by the planes overhead and knew she “just had to fly.”

But it wasn’t easy.

Read More …

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Stormy Weather

We are living in amazing times. We are in the midst of a tempest that is battering the ship of state up to and perhaps beyond its limits. Scandals abound and our democratic institutions are teetering. The ship is foundering. Leaks and defections are rotting its timbers. Congress whimpers as we sink lower by the day.

 

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Trump’s teeny Twitter feed

Trump basks in the adoration of his fans

Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is followed by fewer than 50 million. By comparison, Barack Obama’s followers number over 100 million. What is more interesting is the number of people they themselves follow. Obama follows 634 thousand. Notice that Trump follows 45! Forty-five! Curious to see who these favored few are? Check out the list. There is no one who is not related to Trump’s own business, golf, family or politics. Everyone he follows is related to him in some way. Trump gets no news from outside his small, personal circle.

Summary

6 Golf and golf courses

2  Hotels

1  Business

7  Family and 2 friends

18 Media: 9 Fox News, 9 other

4  White House

5  Politics

 

Golf: Trump Golf; Gary Player, golfer

Trump golf courses

Doral, Miami; Charlotte; Washington, DC; Los Angeles

Trump hotels

Trump Vegas; Trump Chicago

Trump business

Trump Organization

Family and other personal

Tiffany, daughter; Vanessa, daughter-in-law; Lara, daughter-in-law; Melania, wife; Eric, son; Donald Jr, son; Ivanka, daughter

Michael Cohen, personal lawyer; Vince McMahon, billionaire WWE CEO & promoter

Media: TV, Web

Fox News: Tucker Carlson; Jesse Watters; Laura Ingraham; Sean Hannity; Fox Nation; Fox and Friends; Eric Bolling, former host; Bill O’Reilly; Greta Van Susteren, formerly Fox News

Drudge Report; Ann Coulter, conservative pundit; Diamond and Silk; Trump fan club; Katrina Campins, real estate, Fox News, The Apprentice;  Geraldo Rivera, reporter; Mark Burnett, TV; Piers Morgan, TV host; Roma Downey, producer of religious films

White House

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Press Secretary; @WhiteHouse; Dan Scavino, Dir Social Media; Kellyanne Conway, adviser

Politics

Mike Pence, VP; Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager; Reince Priebus, former chief of staff; Katrina Pierson, Tea Party activist & Trump campaign; Team Trump MAGA

 

 

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