Category Archives: Trump

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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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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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

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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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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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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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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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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Trump’s effect on stock market

The market’s performance during his presidency is not what Trump would have us believe. Catherine Rampel (@crampel), Washington Post columnist, tweets

Presidents don’t control stock markets. But since Trump has been so fond of touting his stock market record, here’s what markets have done since inauguration for him vs. during same period in Obama’s presidency. Net gains was  [sic] more than double at this point under Obama. (Emphasis mine)

SPY = ETF that tracks S&P 500

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Red Square on Pennsylvania Avenue?

What vision does Trump aspire to?

Beijing’s Tiananmen Square?

 

 

 

 

Moscow’s Red Square?

 

 

 

 

Pyongyang?

 

 

 

 

Donald Trump used to boast of his familiarity with the military until it became well known that a military prep school, not the battlefield (which he shirked with five deferments), was his training ground. No matter his old gambit no longer salutes. Now as president, he surrounds himself with generals. He demands their loyalty and their submission when they differ. Gen. John Kelly, who previously headed Homeland Security, has largely succeeded in his role as gatekeeper. Kelly fully endorses the president’s hard-line immigration policies, including the Muslim ban. Gen. Jim Mattis heads the Department of Defense, and Gen. Mike Pompeo directs the C.I.A.

This week Trump expressed his reverence for the military with his desire for a parade of American military power. He wants the display of overwhelming force to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, evoking similar spectacles in Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang and even in 1930s Berlin. American soldiers may not march (yet) in goose step, but the very image makes the blood run cold. Trump seemingly aspires to join the ranks of Mao Tse Tung, Hitler and his apparent favorite, Vladimir Putin. These despots crushed resistance through terror and silenced the opposition by eliminating the free press and any who questioned their absolute authority.

Are we there yet? No, but the signs are clear. American democratic institutions have functioned as intended by the Founders. Most of the press is assiduously investigating and documenting the actions and effects of the Trump administration. The courts have mostly stayed or reversed Trump’s harsher initiatives. The legislature, however, is dragging its feet. It has the power, but not the will, to resist Trump’s undemocratic directives. Will Congress have the courage to deny Trump his fantasy? Pennsylvania Avenue is not a military parade ground. Americans don’t do that. (Not to mention the enormous, budget-busting cost!). Is paranoid to consider that the parade, with its enormous numbers of military personnel and weapons moved to the seat of the government, could be a ploy to facilitate a military junta? How many once unthinkable actions has this president taken?

Today, border patrols and immigration agents (ICE) terrorize immigrants. The media are assailed with with relentless and unprecedented presidential fury. Trump undercuts, then emasculates and ultimately fires his own appointees when they are “disloyal” and don’t execute his edicts. As Trump’s judges assume control of the judiciary and his generals adapt to their civilian roles, as Trump’s violations of custom lose their ability to outrage, as voter suppression becomes commonplace, when truth and fake news become indistinguishable, the avenues to choking the incipient autocracy and reviving democracy will become impassable.

Let us not comfort ourselves by thinking “it can’t happen here.” That’s what the German Jews said.

Hitler’s Wehrmacht

 

 

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Russian oligarchs and now “Baby Doc” too

Trump’s vicious smear of Haiti is coming back to bite him. 

On Monday, Haiti’s high court held an emergency session to allow the unsealing after 35 years of the documents from the indictments of former dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier for money laundering. After three decades under wraps, the timing of their release to the public can hardly be an accident. The revelation that in 1983 Donald Trump signed the deed and accepted $446,875 in cash from the brutal and corrupt tyrant for an apartment in Trump Tower followed on the heels of Trump’s widely reported slur of the Caribbean island.

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in 2011
by Marcello Casal Jr

Paying cash is one indication of possible money laundering; selling to unidentified buyers or shell corporations is another.

Haiti’s president had no knowledge of the sealed documents— he learned of them through the reporting of Buzzfeed News on Trump’s likely facilitation of money laundering by Americans and wealthy foreigners through the sale of apartments in his luxury condominiums.

The report took months to prepare. BuzzFeed investigated every sale of the 22 Trump-branded condominium high rises in the United States since the 1980s. They identified more than 1,300 all-cash sales to shell companies— no mortgages, so that the buyers had no imperative to reveal their real identities or finances.

Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in 2017 warned that

real estate transactions involving luxury property purchased through shell companies—particularly when conducted with cash and no financing—can be an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities.

BuzzFeed calculated that Trump condo sales matching the Treasury’s characteristics of possible money laundering totaled $1.5 billion. They accounted for 21% of the 6,400 Trump condos sold in the US and include Trump-branded buildings that pay the president(!) licensing fees or a percentage of the sales. BuzzFeed found that between 2008 and 2010, 11 buildings licensed by Trump sold condos to hundreds of shell companies, all paying an average of $1.2 million cash. Trump revealed in 2015, reports BuzzFeed, that his “real estate licensing deals” and other brands were worth $3.3 billion. 

Steve Bannon thinks Russian collusion won’t be Trump’s main problem with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff. “You realize where this is going,” Wolff says Bannon told Trump. “This is all about money laundering.”

Early on, Trump had warned Mueller not to cross the line by investigating his or his family’s finances. Bannon reportedly scoffed at the president, pointing out that by telling a prosecutor where not to go, you direct his investigation precisely there.

As it happens, Mueller has hired Andrew Weissman, a Washington attorney who used  to head the criminal fraud division of the Justice Department. He specializes in money laundering.

Steve Bannon will testify under subpoena before a grand jury tomorrow, and after losing his position in the Trump administration, his seat on the Breitbart board, his editorship of Breitbart News, his radio show, his financial backing from the billionaire Mercer family, not to mention his close friendship with Trump, what does he have left to lose?

Stay tuned.

Correction: It is not known when Bannon will before the Grand Jury.

Update

Bannon was subpoenaed by Mueller today to appear before a grand jury, a very unusual move. Normally, a conversation (not under oath) takes place first.

In an other very unusual move, The House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election issued a bipartisan subpoena to Bannon after he refused to answer questions in a nine-hour closed-door session. There has never been a bipartisan subpoena before.

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“Shithole countries”

When the U.S. president speaks, the world listens.

And reacts. North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, whom Trump calls “Little Rocket Man,” in return has denounced Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” But the latest frenzy is another order of magnitude— not a pissing match between puerile grown men, but an odious smear of countries on two continents.

In a meeting yesterday Trump let loose when lawmakers were discussing protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he asked. Instead, he said, we should have more people from Norway and countries like it, i.e., whose people are white, not black or brown. In short order, the president’s words were broadcast worldwide.

Angered by the insult and mincing no words, world leaders denounced Trump as a racist. Rupert Colville, UN human rights spokesman, began by saying

There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.

Vicente Fox, ex-president of Mexico said, Trump’s mouth was “the foulest shithole in the world.”

It’s incredible that Trump has been president for a year and he still hasn’t learned that everything he says is on the record. No remark or tweet goes unnoticed. We know he’s not “stable,” let alone a “genius”— not even “a very smart person,” as he tweeted:

Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star….

….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!

— @realDonaldTrump

But how can he think that people will believe his denials of something he said in front of a bunch of witnesses? No one who knows anything about Trump is so credulous as to accept his word over that of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who was present. The Republican lawmakers who were there didn’t back Trump, but at least they didn’t support his denial either.

Since “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” was published last week, it seemed the media had nothing else to write or talk about. The portrait of the president limned by author Michael Wolff is of an incompetent braggart with no knowledge of policy or history or even the Constitution. His over-riding interests are golf and making money. He hardly ever reads but he does watch hours of television every day.

But we knew all this. What is new, at least for me, are the details. I didn’t know, for example, that when he wasn’t having his usual dinner at 6:30 with Steve Bannon, Trump often would get into bed with a cheeseburger, three television screens and his telephone.

What has really caught the most attention is Wolff’s assessment that Trump is not only incompetent and unsuited for the presidency, but that his mental abilities are deteriorating. Trump repeats himself all the time, telling the same story three times in one hour. His attention span, as we already knew, is very short, a question of a few minutes.

This last brouhaha perfectly illustrates Trump’s mental deficiencies. He said something outrageous in front of a group of people. He doesn’t consider or even imagine the implications of his words and their likely effects on both the domestic and international stages. Then, when he sees the adverse reactions at home and across the globe, he attempts to recover by admitting he used “tough” language, but denying that he said what everyone now knows he said. He constantly lies and contradicts himself. Something is missing. There is no way to negotiate or reason with such a person. It’s time for Trump to go.

Republicans, grow a spine. Don’t just withdraw from the arena, resist. Fight for the Constitution and the values you swore to safeguard.

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Art of the Deal: Trump & Putin

Robert Reich makes a cogent and logical argument for Trump’s collusion with Russia to his and Putin’s mutual benefit by listing the events that have already occurred to the advantage of both.

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Unpardonable Pardon

When Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he couldn’t demonstrate any more clearly his disdain for the law when it interferes with his interests and narcissistic self-esteem.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is an elected official who regularly violated a federal injunction against racial profiling. Last July he was found guilty of criminal contempt for defying the court by continuing his practice of rounding up people who “looked Hispanic” and confining them in what he himself described as “concentration camps.”

Since Trump took office, he has tried to severely limit not only illegal, but even legal, immigration. In striking down his executive orders, the courts infuriated the President. But Trump admires Arpaio because the Sheriff was nonetheless carrying out Trump’s illegal orders and was an ardent Trump supporter to boot.

Though the Constitution grants the president the power to pardon, many are outraged by Trump’s in-your-face endorsement of a man who flagrantly violated the constitutional rights of the people he targeted. The judiciary has, for the most part, reacted to Trump by stymieing his overreach. His Muslim ban was recognized as such and modified, despite the White House’s attempt to whitewash it.

But now we have entered new territory. Inevitably, as “unprecedented” so often describes Trump’s actions, it has lost its power to shock. We expect his Twitter tantrums, his denigration of anyone who has the temerity to criticize him, his flagrant corruption and nepotism, his appointment of agency heads who are either incompetent or beholden to competing interests. The list goes on and on.

Yet when I began to appreciate the ramifications of Arpaio’s pardon, my blood ran cold. Backed by the Constitution, Trump can sanction any crime. He has so much as given the assurance to anyone who carries out his wishes that he may do so with impunity. As Martin H. Redish chillingly wrote in the NY Times:

But if the president signals to government agents that there exists the likelihood of a pardon when they violate a judicial injunction that blocks his policies, he can all too easily circumvent the only effective means of enforcing constitutional restrictions on his behavior. Indeed, the president could even secretly promise a pardon to agents if they undertake illegal activity he desires.  [emphasis mine]

Extrapolating, Trump may have found the means to completely subvert the judiciary, leaving only impeachment as a recourse to restore a constitutional democracy. (It’s unlikely his cabinet of henchmen would remove Trump from office by enacting the 25th Amendment.)

Trump has an unprecedented(!) military presence in the cabinet. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, whose weapons and numbers he has vowed to increase, and also controls the huge network of law enforcement, including the police and agencies like the FBI. Does the emergence of a despotic and repressive regime seem very far-fetched?

Nevertheless, Redish, a professor of constitutional law, has a “novel theory.”

He theorizes that since the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) were added to the Constitution after its completion, in a conflict between the president’s pardon power and an amendment, the amendment would take precedence.

[O]n its face the pardon power appears virtually unlimited. But as a principle of constitutional law, anything in the body of the Constitution inconsistent with the directive of an amendment is necessarily pre-empted or modified by that amendment. If a particular exercise of the pardon power leads to a violation of the due process clause, the pardon power must be construed to prevent such a violation.  [emphasis mine]

The “due process” clause of the Fifth Amendment provides that no one may be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, i.e., a court ruling.

Redish concludes,

The Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of neutral judicial process before deprivation of liberty cannot function with a weaponized pardon power that enables President Trump, or any president, to circumvent judicial protections of constitutional rights.

As Redish notes, the Supreme Court has never ruled on the limits, if any, on the presidential pardon power. Given that we are in uncharted territory, however, the Court may be called on to show the way. Assuming justices appointed by Trump would feel disposed to rule against him.

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Too political?

My daughter told me that I’ve become too political. That set me thinking. It is true that I pay much more attention now.

I hardly paid any attention in the 70s and 80s. I was too preoccupied with small children in the first of those decades. Graduate studies, two teenagers and an inter-city commute took over in the second decade. In the 90s, Clinton and his impeachment, his relentless pursuit by members of the political establishment who abandoned even the pretense of commonality, riveted my attention.

When an unprecedented, horrific attack on a complacent nation spurred the newly installed triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to curtail our civil liberties with the Patriot Act, I was galvanized. I warned anyone who would listen to me that proud and prosperous German Jews were decimated because they believed “it can’t happen here.” It can happen here. History has taught us that no government, no society, is immutable. I was afraid we were falling down a slippery slope, and indeed, that was when Americans lost not only their privacy but their faith in the impregnable fortress America. The same powerbrokers plunged us into a war we couldn’t win. Surveillance, fear, and torture insinuated themselves into the American experience.

In the Obama years, blind hatred and the corrosive antagonism between Democrats and Republicans further undermined American democracy and paved the way for the clownish but unfunny despot who is doing his best to undermine and sabotage the institutions that made America powerful and just.

How can one not be “political”? How can one ignore Trump’s peevishness, his enthrallment with himself and his desires, his reckless onslaughts on long-established norms, his ignorance, mendacity and deliberate sabotage of arduously wrought pacts to rescue the planet and provide care for the poor and the sick?

American democracy is under siege. Only activists, roused by anger and fear, can sway the politicians who have the power to save the Republic.

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Trump’s “meddlesome priest” skewers the king

Sen. Roy Blunt and former FBI Director James Comey

James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee would have been high entertainment if it weren’t so disturbing. The former Director of the FBI, abruptly fired by Pres. Trump, answered every question thoughtfully in a calm, measured tone. He elaborated the details of the meticulous memos he wrote immediately after every one-on-one encounter with the president. When Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) asked Comey why he hadn’t given the memos to a reporter himself instead of giving them to a third party to leak, Comey replied,

The media was camping at the end of my driveway at that point, and I was actually going out of town with my wife to hide, and I worried that it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.

It was a light moment in a very serious context.

Comey said he began to record his meetings with Trump after the first of these occasions, when the president-elect abused his power by demanding Comey pledge his loyalty. Comey wouldn’t do that and cited three reasons for his decision to write the memos:

  • the circumstances: Trump had dismissed his advisors and officials, leaving him alone with Comey
  • the subject matter: the Steele dossier and its account of “golden showers” and other salacious details
  • the nature of the person: “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting….I knew there might come a day when I would need a record” to defend himself

Wow. No prevarication. No fuzz. A senior official calling the president a liar. For anyone who’s been paying even minimal attention to the Trump saga, this allegation is not a surprise. We know Trump lies, but for Comey to assert it baldly, under oath, publicly, is truly shocking. A U.S. president who lies transparently and repeatedly is mind-boggling, an oxymoron, until now.  .

From the outset, Comey bristled against Trump’s “defamation” of himself and “more importantly,  the FBI. Those were lies, plain and simple.”

Sen. Angus King and former FBI Director James Comey

Comey is clearly quick-thinking and erudite. One of the best moments of the hearing came in the second hour, when Sen. Angus King (I-ME) was up at bat. In the context of Trump’s saying, “I hope you will hold back on that,” referring to Trump’s implied order that Comey suspend the criminal investigation of Mike Flynn, Comey observed, “It rings in my ear as kind of ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?'”

Sen. King jumped in, “I was just gonna quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, ‘Will no one rid me of that meddlesome priest?’ and then the next day he was killed. [Archbishop of Canterbury] Thomas À Becket. This is exactly the same situation. We’re thinking along the same lines.” The king’s men understood his question as a directive to murder the priest.

Two men quoting a 12th-century English king makes my heart sing. As a medievalist in a former life, I am cheered and encouraged that classics and history are not yet completely extinct. That both men remember the history they’d studied and see its relevance to the present day is just what every teacher hopes for.

 

 

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Trump: “a pustule of ego”

Devastating. Donald Trump’s functional illiteracy is all that could save him from the excoriation of Rebecca Solnit’s sardonic wit:

He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires.

and

The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence.

Trump is “the most mocked man in the world. After the women’s march on January 21st, people joked that he had been rejected by more women in one day than any man in history.” He is the butt of jokes in newspapers and magazines worldwide and most famously, in the weekly skits on Saturday Night Live.

Solnit writes of a man with boundless appetites, one who is ultimately alone, because he does not acknowledges the existence, let alone the needs, of anyone else.

While Obama represented the best of America, Trump revealed the seamy underside; he turned over a rock and exposed the vermin crawling in dung.

I will be going to Europe in a few days. I will have to explain, nay, insist, that Trump doesn’t represent America, that someday Lady Liberty will raise her head again, proudly. He can’t debase and defile the soul of a noble though imperfect nation.

Hat tip: Vox

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Here we go— Bombs away!

NavyMissileU.S. warships in the Mediterranean sent about 60 Tomahawk missiles blazing into a Syrian air field, reports the A.P. The bombing was retaliation for the chemical attack launched from that same field that killed dozens of Syrian citizens.

Apparently Trump was moved by the horrible pictures of victims suffocating and writhing in pain. The president’s volatility is notorious; time and again he has been swayed by what he sees on television. Now, clearly afraid of being thought weak or indecisive, he has launched missiles rather than tweets. Is he trying to prove that he is strong where Obama was “weak” for resisting the commitment of even more boots on the ground? Of starting another war we can’t afford?

Throughout his campaign, Trump insisted that we had no business in Syria, that it could take care of itself. But a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and now Trump’s committed an act of war.

What’s next? That may depend on how many Russian nationals are killed. Syrian rebels are being massacred and the refugees are increasingly finding most roads out of the horror barricaded against them. A response, on humanitarian, if not political, grounds is severely warranted. But what form should it take? Syria is a Gordian knot. Any strategy to disentangle it will reverberate within the middle eastern minefield with unknown but definitely adverse consequences.

The Russians have been supporting Assad against the rebels who want to oust the tyrant. Syria’s weapons defense and warplanes are Russian-built, and Putin has steadfastly resisted multilateral attempts to oust Assad. Will Trump’s palship with Putin weather this military offensive or will Putin take advantage of Trump’s aggression and attack us elsewhere? Trump has opened the proverbial can of worms.

Photo: U.S. Navy

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