Saturday, March 25, 2017

Democrats Triumph: GOP Health Care Bill Collapses, Obamacare Remains

Things are not going well for Republicans. Last week started with a 37% favorability rating for a president who loves to win, who thinks of himself as a winner and pronounces that he has won even when he lost. 

Donald Trump has bragged forever and a day about his ability to make a deal and about the book he wrote on the subject. But as Timothy O'Brien, author of  TrumpNation: the Art of Being the Donald pointed out on CNN, Trump was never any good at complex business deals. In fact, those were the deals that failed the most spectacularly. And The Art of the Deal was written by a ghost writer, who subsequently spoke of his remorse at promulgating a lie, saying "I put lipstick on a pig".  

The Trump Administration has seen nothing but failure since January 20.  Trump began with low popularity and his ratings are now the worst in history for a new president.  

The first Muslim travel ban was blocked, and so was the second. Trump's promises to build the wall on the Mexican border, and make Mexico pay, fell flat. His relationship with Russia is going south.  Mike Flynn was forced to resign and Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from a core investigation. The Trump campaign and possibly even Donald Trump himself are under Congressional and FBI investigations for suspected collusion with Russia regarding the 2016 election. Collusion that could lead to criminal prosecution and jail time for treason.

Then Trump's ludicrous and potentially libellous wiretapping accusations were exposed as pure fiction and he was scorned internationally. Now his first piece of legislation, Trumpcare, has failed to make it out of the gate. Speaking to Dana Bash of CNN, Jake Tapper called it an "ignominious defeat". 

It's been a tension-filled two days. After a lot of posturing from Paul Ryan, threatening from Donald Trump, spinning from Sean Spicer and categorical assertions that there was no plan B because plan A would definitely pass, the vote was postponed. Thursday was spent in frantic attempts by Paul Ryan and the president to convince House Republicans to vote yes for this Republican health care bill that nobody liked. As the day  wore on, opinion that the vote was close shifted from cautious predictions of failure, to certainty of it.

The idea of the bill being pulled a second time started circulating. Within an hour CNN broke the news that Trump had told Paul Ryan to do the deed.  Later it was reported that Ryan had had to talk Trump off the ledge, so keen was he to name and shame Republicans who wanted to vote against him. He's not likely to forget their names.  

Repealing Obamacare was the major, fundamental campaign issue that won the House for Republicans in 2010 and won Congress and the Presidency in 2016. Republicans have been obsessed with it for seven years, making more than 50 repeal attempts, hankering after the power to get rid of it. In that time, nobody ever came up with anything that remotely resembled a replacement. As Politico reported, ex Speaker of the House Jim Boehner said in February that he laughed when 'Republicans started talking about moving lightning fast on repeal and then coming up with an alternative.'

"In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like. Not once. And all this happy talk that went on in November and December and January about repeal, repeal, repeal—yeah, we'll do replace, replace—I started laughing, because if you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens is your fault. You broke it.”

They tried to break it but failed even at that. On camera, House Republicans are praising the president and Paul Ryan, and it’s a love fest between the two of them. But Trump is clearly furious, Ryan is visibly taking strain, and off camera the blame game is in full swing.

Who needs cameras these days when there are so many aides in the Trump camp willing to talk? Republicans who wanted to vote yes are pointing fingers at the Freedom Caucus, who refused to budge on their no vote position. This is the group who shut down the government in an attempt to repeal Obamacare during President Obama's second term. They thought they could blackmail the President. Their ruse failed. He played hardball and they had to back down. Rep Devin Nunes, a Jim Boehner ally, called them "lemmings with suicide vests".

The Freedom Caucus were heavily criticized by more moderate Republicans at the time. “You’re not going to repeal Obamacare while a guy named Obama is President of the United States,” said Rep Tom Cole.

It seems they're not going to repeal Obamacare while a guy named Trump is president, even though the GOP has complete control of Congress. Long ago they labeled the ACA Obamacare in derision. Then, out of pure spite, they chose the anniversary of Obama signing it into law for their original date to vote on Trumpcare. Their mean-spiritedness has succeeded only in highlighting their abysmal failure. Now for the foreseeable future Obamacare will be a constant reminder of it. The very real and powerful presence of former President Barack Obama and his tremendous success will haunt them.

Kudos to Democrats for the fight they put up and to voters who voiced their objections with their representatives and at town hall meetings, putting the fear of God into moderate Republicans.

This is another triumph of good over evil and a reminder that winning an election by colluding with a foreign power and gaining total control of government is not a free ticket in a strong democracy. Especially when that government does not have the interests of the majority of the people at heart.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Go Johnny Go! Rest In Peace, Chuck Berry


Chuck Berry was born on October 18 1926 in the Ville, a self-contained middle-class black community in St. Louis, at a time when the city was totally segregated. The first time he saw a white person was when he was three years old, and white firemen put out a fire. ''I thought they were so frightened that their faces were whitened from fear of going near the big fire,'' he said once. ''Daddy told me they were white people, and their skin was always white that way, day or night."

But as a musician finding fame in the 1950s, he was one of the first black musicians to be popular with a white audience. His music won the hearts of everybody, regardless of race. That's just who he was. "I made records for people who would buy them. No color, no ethnic, no political—I don't want that, never did.''

"I am so sad to hear of Chuck Berry's passing. I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us. He lit up our teenage years, and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers. His lyrics shone above others and threw a strange light on the American dream. Chuck, you were amazing, and your music is engraved inside us forever." Mick Jagger
"Whatever its transcendent artistic import, music in its myriad manifestations ...has traditionally been an art form that enabled people who weren't born rich to make a living, and not merely to whine about their skanky girlfriends. This is what makes Johnny B Goode such a special cultural artifact. Probably the first song ever written about how much money a musician could make by playing the guitar, no song in the history of rock'n'roll more jubilantly celebrates the downmarket socioeconomic roots of the genre." The Guardian 

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'
John Lennon

"I don't even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don't think he does... It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck's records. It's when I knew what I wanted to do." Keith Richards

“Legend. Architect. He built the tools that built the house. Rock on forever. #RIP Chuck Berry.”
John Mayer
'No-one else shaped the instrumental voice and lyrical attitude of rock like Chuck. His recordings were lean, modern and thrilling. In the words of pop critic Bob Stanley, "they sounded like the tail fins on Cadillacs".' BBC

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ukraine vs Putin - a Metaphor for US Democrats vs Donald Trump

On Thursday I went to a talk by Councellor Liubov Abravitova and Defense Attaché Andriy Kuzora from the Ukraine embassy. It was fascinating. Ukrainians are a people who have no desire for or inclination towards aggression; they just want to be respected and allowed to live in peace. Militarily they have no weapons to match those that Putin has. Their only weapons are freedom of speech, passion for their culture, and diplomacy. It's all they want to use, anyway.

Learning something about a country I didn't know much about, I felt transported for a few hours away from the rabid megalomania in Putin and Trump's administrations, the angry, hateful rhetoric and intolerance in the US, UK and from the rising alt-right in Europe.

I asked if Ukraine has a problem with brainwashing from Putin's state-controlled media machine. Liubov Abravitova said that Ukraine itself has free speech and a free press, and there's no censorship, so people who want to be informed can access information. Andriy Kuzora added, however, that during the day, you listen to people speak and they're anti-Putin. But at night, if you walk along the street, where there are no high walls—like the ones here in South Africa, he said with a smile—you can see inside people's windows. And Russian TV is on. Information influence, he called it. And yes, he said, it is a problem.

It's a big problem for all of us. How on earth do we counter this plague gone viral that threatens to halt us in our evolutionary tracks? I had thought that our evolutionary drive had itself evolved from using the physical to survive to relying on mental and spiritual capacities and empathy. If we care about each other and the planet we'll be sensible in our actions. We won't want or need to go to war. We'll control the greed in our own countries, get rid of leaders who are destructive. 

Democracy will function the way it's supposed to. With challenges, but always forward moving. As it was doing during the Obama years.  

People have always revolted against abuse of power. But the 2016 election was the anti-revolution! People bucking at a president who had worked miracles—testament to which is the state of the economy at the moment, notwithstanding Trump's bragging to the contrary. 

I saw a comment on Facebook after the election results, "I feel truly American for the first time in eight years." With an intellectually challenged president who's a paranoid bully, a believer in conspiracy theories, a serial liar and manipulator, a sexual abuser, a racist, a bigot. Who tweets obsessively at three in the morning and seems to be lusting for the opportunity to get his fat little fingers on the red button.

The mind boggles. With Obama in the White House, I felt safe. The most powerful country in the world had a huge shield against the kind of things Putin does in Russia. The shield protected people round the world. Against all the things that most sane people revolt against. But now? The Trump administration is dialing back every achievement Obama made, all the progress towards equality for all and a safer planet. And he's opened the door wide for the alt-right to march through, victorious. He's turning America into their best role model.

Trump is too asinine to see how much he is being used by every Tom, Dick, Harry and Harry's pal with malevolent intent, from Mike Pence to Paul Ryan to Steve Bannon, to Vladimir Putin. And his followers either don't see it or don't care.

It's tempting to think that evolution just did a kind of mind-bending backward flip. Intelligence, alert minds, empathy and being properly informed weren't enough to counter the mindlessness that put power in Trump's hands and, by virtue of who he is, in the hands of people with truly malevolent intent. But, evolutionary progress doesn't happen in perfectly forward movement. The power of Trump and his pals, the alt right, and Putin, is bully power.  And bullies are inherently weak.  

As for information influence, it can only affect a limited number of people before it hits an impenetrable barrier—those of us who haven't lost control of our minds and are never going to. 

Putin has cyber warfare tentacles in many countries, influencing France, Germany, the Netherlands, and of course the US. The more he gets his disruptive message out to people thirsty for anything that will justify their fear of a changing status quo, the more people he influences, of course. But outside of Russia he doesn't have control of the narrative. He can't control how much is written about his methods by those he hasn't reached. 

The harder he pushes, the harder liberals will push back and spread truth. Some of that is going to filter back to Russians, who perhaps believe in Putin because they haven't had access to any truth. It will affect them. They'll start thinking. Those who already oppose Putin will be strengthened, invigorated. Bad ideas spread. But so do good ones.

One of these days Vladimir Putin will realize he overstepped himself. But by then he'll have a revolution on his hands. Hopefully until that happens, Ukraine's weapons of free speech and independent thinkers will be enough to protect their autonomy and preserve that beautiful spirit. A fitting metaphor for us vs. Trump.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mike Pence, President In Waiting, Sits on the Wiretap Fence

Paul Ryan to Mike Pence "I give him a month. Then it's you and me, baby."

When the current president was inaugurated, the world was treated to spectacular verbosity from him, with follow-up clean-up operations from Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, and the occasional back-up from Mike Pence and Paul Ryan. It was double-down and treble-down overload on the news, the legitimate media, talk shows, panel discussions and Twitter.

Kept afloat by the ballast of his own bombast, the president threw his weight around all over the place. China, N. Korea, NATO, Mexico, Russia—no, not that one. The majority of the American people who didn't vote for him, the press...

I have the best people, this administration is running perfectly, like a well oiled machine. I have the best ideas, even God stopped it raining during my inauguration. Can you believe it, Arnold Schwarzenegger's a loser, Sad! You're gonna love it, we're gonna get the bad dudes out. I tell you, I have the best ideas, the best people, the press, they're the enemy of the people. The American people they love me, I have the best.

So many words. Thank God some of them were leaks. There were occasional moments of stark humor. Like when Sean Spicer gathered all his staff and commandeered their phones to check if any of them were the leak. Which pleasant occasion was leaked.

And the leak about the president roaming the corridors of the WH in a dressing gown, not knowing what to do.

That was fun. There haven't been many of those moments. Mostly it's been one dark day after another as the gigantic tidal wave of alternative facts threatened to wipe truth off the face of the planet. And the flood of stinking tweeting words just kept oozing. The oozer-in-chief on a high. Nothing's gonna stop me now.

Unaccountably things started going wrong. The momentum against the bigot that had started with Hillary Clinton was a counter-tidal wave that didn't stop at the inauguration. You can lie about the truth but you can't make it go away.

Messy noisy town hall meetings affecting Republicans, Mike Flynn caught lying red-handed, push back from Democrats, investigations up the kazoo, Republicans breaking ranks, Kellyanne Conway advertising for Ivanka Trump on national TV and sitting on the WH couch without her shoes. Sean Spicer in the dog house for wearing the wrong color suit and plugging his cheeks with too much gum. SNL - damn that SNL, the losers! And Putin very silent on the mutual-admiration society.

Then Jeff Sessions. Full-blown catastrophe for the president. The runaway train of his garbled mind that we thought was already in full bolt, really bolted. Or, to use another metaphor, the pressure-cooker exploded. What had been silly tweets, annoying tweets, weird tweets, clownish, childish, suddenly became actionable lies.

And the whole well-oiled verbiage-spewing machine shut down. Silence. Sweet silence. No presidential tweets, no Sean Spicer, no Kellyanne Conway, no Mike Pence or Paul Ryan. Odd, that. But the New York Times reports that behind the scenes, various (unnamed) staff called each other and the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, in a panic. Others told the Times that the president was on a high at first, but then sounded unsure of how wiretaps were actually executed, and asked "aides and associates" if an independent source could substantiate his claims. 

This would be the president who lambasted the press for using anonymous sources and whose government refuses to insist on an independent investigation into Russian interference in the elections and possible connections between Russia and Trump and/or his staff during his campaign.

On Monday at an off-camera gaggle, Sean Spicer, clearly off his game, chose to speak about  the president's complaints at CPAC that the press used anonymous sources. Spicer was of course quizzed on the wiretap accusations made by the president without evidence. He referred vaguely to "numerous reports out there". Nobody could pin him down. Not quite business as usual.

Then yesterday Mike Pence was interviewed on Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends and broke his silence in a way that spoke volumes.

“I think the president’s tweet speaks for itself. He’s expressed himself on it. And we’re very pleased that the congressional committees have made it clear that they will look into that matter, just as they’re looking into every aspect of it.”

Double-speak for, "This is too hot to touch. He made his bed. And, when congressional committees look into the matter, I'll be pleased with whatever the outcome is." Which is double speak for "Hallelujah! We're finally going be rid of this jerk so I can be president as God has ordained." Does Mike Pence want to be President? The Indy Star reported in 2016 that as Governor, he did think of it and even "stoked talk of it". He refrained from making a commitment until the April 2015 session ended.

Indiana law prohibits anybody running for state and local office on one ballot. So a bill was put forward by Sen. Mike Delph to change the law, but it was iced, and Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said that Pence "Appears willing to let others do his dirty work for him and refuses to get his hands dirty when it comes to his presidential ambitions or running state government." 

The man doing the dirty work, Mike Delph, lost his press secretary, his title as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and his leadership role of Senate assistant majority floor leader of communications. His seat was also moved into the minority, with Democrats, and across the aisle from Republican leadership. Punished by his own party.

The reason for such severe punishment? Delph violated GOP caucus protocol that prohibits public discussion of caucus affairs. He tweeted about a same-sex marriage amendment.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Donald Trump Accuses President Obama of Wire-Tapping

On February 28, when the US president addressed Congress, in an unusual departure since the inauguration, he did not rant, insult anybody, rabble rouse, whip up fear, or blather on about himself and his vast [self alleged] achievements. Mike Pence and Paul Ryan stood behind him looking like schmaltzy proud parents.

A portion of the media world went nuts with emotional pronouncements of Trump finally behaving like a president, hailing the speech as a game-changing pivot. Even CNN lost the plot for a bit. There was a touch of hysteria to it, reminiscent of a bi-polar high. Perhaps relief. Was the end of the madness in sight? For the record, Jake Tapper distanced himself from the momentary CNN aberration.

He and the more realistic among us saw the behavior for what it was: Trump reading from the teleprompter, sticking word for word to a speech that somebody else had written and that contradicted every action he's taken as president. Words are cheap and those that come out of Donald Trump's mouth wouldn't fetch enough to buy a 2c lollipop. Trevor Noah of The Daily Show also pointed out that in a pre-election rally Trump actually boasted about how easy it was for him to behave "presidentially" (see video above).

He even gave his fans a sneak preview. The act was eerily similar to his address. Bearing that in mind, the subtext to his entire speech was "You're all a bunch of gullible idiots and I'll ride this horse as far as I can."

Despite that the predicted boost to Trump's disastrous popularity ratings didn't happen, Trump floated on a cloud, basking in the glory of what he saw as the American People's love and adulation. Until the next scandal involving his administration erupted with it did on March 2. Again over the Russian connection issue, this time around Trump's good friend and ever-loyal supporter Attorney General Jeff Sessions. After a day of bluster and denials, Sessions was pressured to recuse himself from the investigations into possible links between Russia and the Trump camp.

The next thing the world knew was that Trump had tweet-accused President Barack Obama of wire-tapping his phones at Mar-a-Lago.
Predictably, no evidence accompanied the wild accusations. Because Trump got his "information" from those fountains of wisdom and truth Breitbart News and conservative radio host Mark Levin.

According to Breitbart, with zero evidence, Levin accused the Obama administration of "police state" tactics and getting authorization to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign, then continuing to monitor it even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing. Then the administration relaxed the NSA rules so that evidence [which hadn't been found] could be shared widely within the government.  

Trump tweeted a few more times on the subject before losing interest and diverting his twitty attention to another pressing state matter of tremendous importance.
This is the president of the United States. Six weeks into the presidency, with the same kind of asinine behavior being exhibited every day and on every front, and still it's hard to believe. The president of the United States!

The reason for Donald Trump's invective against Obama is not hard to trace. It has subsequently been leaked that when Sessions recused himself, the president exploded at Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus—who were with him in Florida—for not defending Sessions enough.

In a fit of rage he refused to allow them on the plane when he flew back to Washington. He already had President Obama on the brain. With his own administration in chaos and under increasing scrutiny over Russian connections, Trump recently said Russia was not the problem in the 2016 election, darkly accusing Obama of being the one who meddled by fomenting the anti-Trump protests and being behind the leaks that Sean Spicer is frantically trying to identify, to no avail.

It's all backfired spectacularly on the president. Because while he, Levin and Breitbart News couldn't provide evidence, it can be found to prove that they're all lying through their teeth. First Mike Flynn, then Jeff Sessions, now the president's strong-man and the president himself. Is anybody surprised that at some point Trump would paint himself into a corner? 

Filmmaker Rob Reiner, a powerful opponent of Trump who is very vocal on Twitter, put it perfectly:
Unfortunately, there appears to be no truth to the accusation at all. Keven Lewis, spokesperson for the only adult in the room, issued a simple denial, saying that "neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen," and that "a cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice." He didn't, however, comment on whether or not a judicial investigation was under way.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence at the time of the US election, said that he would know if a court order had been granted for wire-tapping Donald Trump. When asked point blank, he stated categorically that none had been. There are two types of wiretaps; criminal and national security (FISA). They can only be ordered by a federal judge on application by the Justice Department. A president cannot order them.

But it's caused a firestorm. Republicans are calling for "investigations" into whether President Obama illegally gave the command to wiretap Donald Trump. On the strength of a conservative Radio Host's speculation without a sniff of evidence! The media is taking it seriously too, though, unearthing the truth. And Democrats are pushing back strongly. Charles Blow, NYT columnist, also very vocal and popular as a columnist and on Twitter for his outspoken condemnation of Trump, suggested that there might be a case for suing him for libel. 

According to the New York Times, senior American officials stated that FBI Director James Comey called on the Justice Department on Sunday to publicly acknowledge that the president's heat-of-the-moment claim is false. So far there has been no response. 

The Capitol Hill and FBI investigations into the Russian connection continue apace and Democrats are increasingly calling for an independent investigation as circumstantial evidence at least piles up. This latest outburst of the president's seems to go directly back to his rage that Jeff Sessions, Trump's most loyal supporter, had to recuse himself.  Without a friend in the Justice Department, the president is perhaps feeling quite exposed now.

Even Paul Ryan, who was interviewed by Fox News on Friday, said he didn't think the Obama Administration had been surveilling members of the Trump campaign. Mike Pence has been silent, as have Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway. They've all gone to ground, as has the president. Not Saturday Night Live, though.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jeff Sessions Pressured to Recuse Himself From Probe Into Russia

"There aren't many people [in the House or the Senate] who would forget having a private conversation with a Russian Ambassador." – Larry Sabato Center for Politics, University of Virginia.

Mike Flynn did. And so did Jeff Sessions. Sessions, purportedly seeing ideology that he could identify with, was the first elected official to endorse candidate Trump in 2016, which he did on February 1, when other Republicans still wouldn't touch the candidate with a barge-pole. On March 3 Trump made him head of his national security advisory committee.

At the Republican National Convention in mid-July Sessions met, amongst a small group, Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

In the meantime, on July 8 Wikileaks had leaked 20,000 emails sent or received by DNC officials, and on July 25 the FBI began investigating how the emails were accessed. On July 27, in a news conference, Trump said, apropos Hillary Clinton's deleted emails, "Russia, if the you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."

On September 5 President Obama met with Vladimir Putin and told him to cut it out, referring to the alleged Russian hacking of the DNC, threatening serious consequences if Russia continued interfering. Three days later, September 8, Kislyak visited Jeff Sessions and two of his senior aides in his Senate office.

On October 7 the Obama Administration officially accused Russia of interfering with the US elections. Trump was elected president on November 9. Sessions had remained staunchly loyal to Trump throughout, despite his overt racism, xenophobia, sexism and bigotry and was nicely rewarded with the post of Attorney General on November 18, subject to confirmation. Democrats were up in arms, because of Sessions' anti Civil Rights/LBGT/Muslim/immigrant stance.

Weeks later, in early December, US Intelligence announced that Russia did indeed interfere in the elections in a way that favored Trump. 

In late December Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed of the closure of Russian-owned compounds in New York and Maryland, the expulsion of 35 Russians suspected of being Intelligence operatives, and the imposition of sanctions against Russia for interfering in the elections. Kislyak threatened aggressive Russian response. He left the State Department and called then incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. It was later revealed that there were a few conversations that day in which Flynn reassured Kislyak that the US attitude to Russia would change after the inauguration. 

At his confirmation hearing later, Flynn denied having any conversations or meetings with Russian officials. 

On January 10, at Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing, Senator Al Franken posed this question to him: "If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the course of this campaign what would you do?" Sessions replied, "I am not aware of any of those activities… I did not have communications with the Russians and I'm unable to comment." 

On January 18 Sen Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) asked Sessions in a questionnaire if he had been "in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day." Sessions replied "No." He was confirmed on February 8.

Mike Flynn's 
was sworn in on January 20 but his lies were exposed and on February 13 he resigned. The 45th president said he knew nothing about Flynn's conversation with Kislyak, as did Mike Pence.

Sessions was the next domino to fall, although he hasn't resigned. Yet. On March 1 the Washington Post revealed the truth about his meetings with Kislyak, again allegedly surprising Trump et al.

In both Sen. Al Franken's question at the hearing and in Sen Leahy's questionnaire, the subject matter of the communication wasn't brought up or even intimated and nor was it in Sessions' replies to both. But in an attempt to dodge the accusations that he committed perjury in his confirmation hearing, Sessions declared, "I have never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false."

Naturally Trump defended him, saying he had complete confidence in Sessions, which Paul Ryan echoed, saying "we meet with ambassadors all the time," and adding that there was nothing sinister about Sessions not remembering he had met with Kislyak, and that there was no need for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigations into Russian election tampering and possible involvement with Trump and/or his advisers. 

House and Senate Republicans, including
 Senators Susan Collins, Rob Portman and Lindsay Graham, and Rep. Darrell Issa, felt differently and called for Sessions to recuse himself, to maintain the integrity of the Russia probe. 

Senior Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer and Rep. nancy Pelosi were among those calling for Sessions to recuse and resign. Rep Elijah 
E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement:
"It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversation with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations secret for several more weeks. 
When Senator Sessions testified under oath that "I did not have communications with the Russians," his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks—and he continued to let it stand even as he watched the President tell the entire nation he didn't know anything about anyone advising his campaign talking to the Russians. 
Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue." [Russian involvement.]
Sessions announced his recusal in a press conference on May 3. He had suddenly developed quite a memory, talking about his meetings with Kislyak in some depth but only revealing that which could prove his innocence. When questions got too close to the bone, however, he fell back that old fail safe, "I don't recall." 

Reporters had more questions than answers by the end of the press conference and the Russian story just isn't going away. It's ironic that the White House and the world only got to hear about Sessions' misstep through investigative reporting. So much for fake news.

The Trump administration has constantly denied contacts between Russian officials and anybody in the campaign. Now, as that untruth is being exposed and perhaps in an attempt to get ahead of another scandal, it has also revealed on March 3 that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and influential adviser before Steve Bannon took the throne, also met with Kislyak and Mike Flynn in December

We'll see how long it is before Sessions resigns. Because for all his bluster, he can't be unaware of something Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters earlier today. "... with these revelations, [Jeff Sessions] may very well become the subject of it."

A sentiment echoed by Tim Kaine:
The dominoes are falling in the Trump administration.  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

French Petition Calls for Obama to Run for President

"Oui on peut!" Yes we can! Recently four Parisian guys in their thirties, working in creative industries, met after work for a drink and talked about the state of affairs in French politics and the upcoming elections. One of them spoke on condition of anonymity to NPR.

"We were thinking about French politics and saying that we were fed up with the fact that we all the time had to vote against someone," he said, "and how it would be cool to be able to vote for someone we admire. We came up with Obama. I think the whole world would love to have him as president." Ain't that the truth. America is still in mourning, or it would be if there were time, amid the chaos and din created by the Trump administration. Many Democrats don't even think of Donald Trump as a president of any kind, legitimate or not.

The four French friends, who don't want to see a repeat of Brexit or the US election, or the alt-right hijacking the government, did what they do best; they got creative and started a petition calling on Obama to put himself forward as a candidate in the French elections in May. They aim to have garnered a million signatures by March 15.
"The French are ready to make radical choices. That is good because we have a radical idea to propose to them.
After a phantom quinquennium and faced with the announced failure of the next presidential election, we think it is time to move to the 6th Republic to get France out of its lethargy.
To launch this 6th Republic, we wish to strike a blow by electing a foreign President at the head of our beautiful country. Barack Obama has completed his second term as President of the United States on January 21, why not hire him as President for France?"
The petition is tongue-in-cheek. "It's definitely a joke," said the guy who spoke to NPR, insisting that he and his friends aren't politicians and the petition isn't meant to be a real political call to Obama. They just wanted to wake people up, make them think "a little bit about what we could do differently in French politics..."

After all, as probably the majority of people around the world would agree, Obama is the most qualified man on the planet for the job. And now as France stands on the brink of voting the extreme right into power, the four intrepid creatives wanted to remind us all about what democracy really is; that dire circumstances call for thinking out of the box. And the truth is that it would be legal in France to elect a foreigner.  

Obama could only run, however, if he became a French citizen, and that's not likely to happen since, God knows, his own country needs him so desperately.

But the petition's message is serious. And it's just one more real time illustration of how much we in the west do appreciate and recognize integrity, and long for it in government. And we do not want our world to go to the dogs.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump WH Dislikes Freedom of Info, Blocks NYT, CNN, BBC, Politico, Buzzfeed from Gaggle

"We have great respect for the press when it comes to government. That is something you can't ban an entity from – Conservative, Liberal or otherwise. I think that's what makes a Democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship." Sean Spicer December 16 2016

On Feb 24 2017 the White House held a press gaggle  instead of its daily press briefing and barred NYT, Politico, CNN, LA Times, Buzzfeed, BBC, the Guardian and Daily Mail from attending. Allowed to attend were Breitbart News, Hearst, McClatchy, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, One American News Network, AP, Time, and TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. 

AP and Time heard in advance and boycotted the gaggle. Alarmingly, when some journalists gathered outside in frustration, they were removed by Secret Service, on the order of the White House.

It's not unusual to hold in camera press gaggles, but it is unusual to cherry-pick who can attend. Gaggles with the press secretary usually limit the pool of reporters when they conflict with the president's travel arrangements, in which case they often happen on Air Force One.  

This gaggle, however, simply replaced the daily press briefing. The motive was ludicrously transparent. They wanted to avoid uncomfortable questions about the FBI's refusal to accommodate the White House demand that coverage of possible relationships between Trump staff and Russia be censored. They also wanted to minimize damage done by Donald Trump's manic, rambling, non-sequitur-packed, contradictory, nonsensical  tirade against the media at CPAC, where he revved up the crowd of adoring fans into virtual hysteria.

Much like Mitch McConnell's attempt to muzzle Elizabeth Warren in Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing, and as all the Trump Administration moves have done so far, this one backfired on the White House. Interest in the Russian connection has ballooned and liberal outlets have gotten good publicity already over this gaggle. Public outrage has flared up again, and legitimate media are expressing their disdain. 

Wall Street Journal issued a statement saying that it had attended not knowing about the exclusions and "had we known at the time, we would have participated, and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future." Executive editor of  McClatchy Washington said the same.

Marty Baron, Executive Editor of The Post  called it appalling and added "This is an undemocratic path that the administration is travelling… We are currently evaluating what our response will be if this sort of thing happens again."

The Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Press Club condemned the move and  White House Correspondents Association president Jeff Mason said, "We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff."  New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker wrote to the WH press corps email list, "Congratulations to Time and AP for not attending today's gaggle in protest."

Ben Wizner, Director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union said that this is "Another disturbing example of the Trump administration’s contempt for the vital role a free press plays in our democracy."

Is there a sector of western democracy that the Trump Administration has not assaulted in some way in the  past month? Each one is worse than the last as Bannon gains power and Trump believes more and more that he can get away with anything.

It's clear that they and their close team are trying to replicate Vladimir Putin's assault on freedom of the press. But they're missing a couple of important factors, the first one of which explains why they're missing them. Putin is a nasty and dangerous man but he's really intelligent, insightful and strategic, which none of the Trump camp are. Secondly, Putin does love to boast, but not about his underhanded moves. Trump and Bannon can't stop themselves. Thirdly, Putin never exposes himself in writing—i.e. in tweets.

Again, Trump can't stop himself. Fourthly, most Americans aren't as brain-washable as Russians seem to be. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, in The Gulag Archipelago, “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” 

That appears to be happening again in Russia, as Putin's popularity increases for no reason that has any sense or moral good to it, but it will never happen in America.

Bannon, Trump, Priebus, Conway, Spicer can all rant and rave about the corrupt press as much as they want. But they're only reaching a negligible number of Americans in comparison to the huge number they are inspiring to take a stand. Most of America, and the whole world, can see the truth. An enormous amount of pro-democracy activity is happening at every level, people of all ages, including the youth, getting involved in politics beyond just voting, going to town hall meetings, voicing their protest, joining and/or volunteering for pro-democracy organizations. Democratic politicians are stepping up in response to demands from their electorate that they fight.

Hillary Clinton has resurfaced, as have the Obamas. And of course the FBI is continuing with its investigation into the Russian Connection.

The stupidity, the lies, the constant denials are intensely frustrating. Trump's attempt to disenfranchise the press as part of a larger strategy to disenfranchise every non-white and every poor and middle-class white in America is terrifying. But it's feeble in the face of the sleeping giant that his dictator-type tactics have awoken. To quote Representative John Lewis:

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Enemy of the People – the Free Press or Donald Trump?

"If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." Thomas Jefferson to Colonel Yancy, Jan 6 1916
Not too long ago Donald Trump the candidate was boasting about how the press was giving him so much coverage that he didn't have to buy expensive campaign ads. He loved the press in those days. They loved him back. Then the liberal media developed a conscience, unequivocally condemning Trump as a dog's breakfast. Bigoted, sexist, racist, unworthy, unstable, unqualified.

Since his inauguration, they have been on him like an army of red ants. Reporting truthfully. Investigating. Doing their job with journalistic integrity and courage in a way that recalls Watergate. There is nowhere for the president to run, nowhere to hide. His attacks on the press have been constant and well-documented—mostly by himself, as they're executed in his tweets. Lately the current president's attacks on the media have intensified. His message has gone from labeling the press corrupt, fake news to calling it the enemy of the people. (To see his tweets in handwriting that matches his emotional maturity, download Trevor Noah's app.
It has a sinister and familiar ring to it. Initially it was used correctly, to describe Nero who, when Rome fell into ruin, took an expensive vacation and then ignored a revolt. The Senate declared him an enemy of the people. Nero committed suicide to avoid arrest and execution. In 1882 Ibsen wrote a play Enemy of the People, about a doctor who is persecuted for rightly and publicly criticizing the mayor. At first the townspeople are grateful, but they're manipulated and turned against him. Anybody thinking of Hillary Clinton at this point?
The next public figure to use the phrase was Adolph Hitler, allegedly a fan of Ibsen. He twisted it, using it to describe the Jews. His propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote on Nov 16 1941:
"Every Jew is our enemy in this historic struggle, regardless of whether he vegetates in a Polish ghetto or carries on his parasitic existence in Berlin or Hamburg or blows the trumpets of war in New York or Washington. All Jews by virtue of their birth and their race are part of an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany… Each Jew is a sworn enemy of the people... If someone wears the Jewish star he is an enemy of the people… The Jews are the enemy's agents among us. He who stands by the Jews aids the enemy…"
Stalin and Mao both used the term to describe objectors, some of whom were slaughtered for their courage.

New York national affairs editor Gabriel Sherman had good reason to call the president's latest tweet "full-on dictator speak." Republican Senator John McCain echoed the sentiment, talking to Chuck Todd. 
Reince Priebus' response to the president's tweet was "I think you should take it seriously. I think that the problem we've got is that we're talking about bogus stories like the one in the New York Times, that we've had constant contact with Russian officials. The next day, the Wall Street Journal had a story that the intel community was not giving the president a full intelligence briefing. Both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown, and it's total garbage."

Shades of Richard Nixon. On the December 1972 tape he's recorded as saying "the press is the enemy of the people." In July 1974 he said that Watergate, "the broadest but the thinnest scandal in American history… would have been a blip [but for the press] who hate my guts with a passion..." In August he resigned.

The current US president should take heed. Fun as it is for him to use the tactics of  Stalin, Mao, Hitler and his propaganda machine and to echo Nixon, those men all met their just deserts for being, like Nero, the true enemy of the people. The thing is, how many people will have to suffer before this US president meets his fate? Trump's attack on the press has been well mixed up with exploitation of fear of Muslims and Mexicans. He's upping that ante every day. His Muslim ban didn't succeed but his message got through to his supporters and now he's planning another executive action to replace it. Again, taking a page out of Hitler's playbook, using Joseph Goebbels as his mouthpiece.
"It is the job of the government to deal with [the Jews]. No one has the right to act on his own, but each has the duty to support the state's measures against the Jews, to defend them with others, and to avoid being misled by any Jewish tricks. The security of the state requires that of us all."
For "Jews" read "Muslims," "Mexicans" and "the press". The truth is that the Roman Senate's use of the phrase enemy of the people was the one we need to revert to. The security of the state requires that the president is held to account. Hopefully the Judiciary and Democratic politicians will continue to fight for all civil rights. But without a free press there is nothing to protect democracy from becoming a dictatorship. Again, to quote Carl Bernstein, 
But the final words go to former President Barack Obama, speaking at his final press conference (the link takes you to the NYT page with the full transcript).

"...You’re not supposed to be fans [or] to be complimentary. You’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure we're accountable to the people who sent us here. 
It goes without saying that essential to [our democracy] is a free press... Our democracy needs you, to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress. And so my hope is that you will continue with the...hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves and to push this country to be the best version of itself.
I have no doubt that you will do so... I want to thank you all for your extraordinary service to our democracy."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Carrying the Torch for Integrity Against the Intolerance of Donald Trump

Has it only been two weeks since sanity, coherence, joy, optimism, good leadership and dignity vanished from the White House? It feels like years.

The four months since the New York Times took an unequivocal stand for Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump feel like decades. Remember the Democratic National Convention, when Hillary Clinton broke a glass ceiling, when the world felt like a safe place because hope and optimism for the future of America as a tolerant nation where everybody was equal, were at an all-time high? It was only six months ago, but it feels like a lifetime. 

And who could forget former First Lady Michelle Obama's impassioned denouncement of sexual abuse and plea to New Hampshire voters? We'll never forget, but it feels like another era.

It's impossible to read about, let alone to process everything that Trump and his Administration are doing to create carnage nationally and internationally, elevate intolerance, exploit fear and distort truth. Shock and horror prevail and ripple out from the epicenter into the world every day. 

But if anybody thought that the majority of Americans were as easily brainwashed as the average Russian has been by Vladimir Putin, or that the free world would let itself be led into a dark age of intolerance, they'll have to think again. If anybody was ever afraid that the majority of Americans would let Donald Trump's bigotry, racism, flagrant ignorance, sexism become the new normal, or that the Trump brand would make a fortune out of the presidency before Trump bankrupted the country and walked away scott-free, they can set that fear aside. 

In two mind-numbing weeks Trump has united people across America and round the world. Adults, women and men, kids, schools, universities, communities, organizations, politicians, judges, former presidents, the media are speaking out, shouting out, protesting peacefully, organizing, taking action. Not on our watch.