Saturday, April 29, 2017

100 Days of Failure, Broken Promises - And Action

It's been a hundred days since sanity, coherence, joy, optimism, brilliance of mind, sound leadership and dignity vanished from the White House. Since the building symbolized hope and housed a super-qualified, integrity-driven administration. Since the president and first lady and their two daughters were hugely respected round the world, free from even the hint of scandal or abuse. Since the planet was in safe hands and international conflict was under control.

A hundred days only? It feels like years. The six months since the New York Times finally 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, and after that Barack and Michelle Obama took to the campaign trail with passion and energy that lit up every day. It feels like a lifetime since the world felt like a safe place after eight years of a president who valued diplomacy over war and understood how important it was not to engage in saber-rattling with trigger-happy sociopath leaders. Since hope and optimism were at an all time high for the future of America set firmly on a path of increasing tolerance, good governance and equality.

It seems as if a generation has passed since the most powerful nation in the world was perceived to be a buffer, an insurmountable barrier, against the insurgent far right in Europe. But it's only been one hundred days.

It's been a challenge to keep up with, let alone process, everything that the current president and his shambolic, understaffed, unqualified administration have done in that time to create carnage. Shock and horror prevail and ripple out constantly from the epicenter into the world. Liberals are obliged to keep themselves informed but it's like drinking poison every day. Donald Trump is in the news the whole time and every word written about him is  disheartening, depressing. The way the Republican Party is enabling him because they want the power is almost worse. Reading about it all is like trying to breathe through an oil slick. Rep. Nancy Pelosi tweeted some choice triumphs.

A hundred days ago, a significant majority of American voters and liberals around the world were in shock that the unimaginable had actually happened. Paradise was paved and replaced with a parking lot.

But if anybody was ever afraid that the majority of Americans would let Trump's bigotry, stupidity, racism, flagrant ignorance and 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 scot-free, they can set that fear aside. 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.

Yes, it's been one hundred days of travesty, of inhumane campaign and post-campaign promises that fortunately have been broken, of a president who wanders the corridors of the White House in a dressing gown, mindlessly tweeting whatever is running through his seedy brain at three in the morning. A man who clearly has difficulty reading but none in telling a lie.

A hundred days of nepotism, back-biting, infighting, alternative fact spewing, lies and doubling down on lies, contradictions, threats of suing the press, calling it the enemy of the people. Childish attempts to follow Putin's playbook. And failure in everything that's been attempted.

A fragmented Republican Party, driven asunder by its own infighting; the Freedom Caucus pushing to the far right, and moderate Republicans fearing for their seats in 2018 if they give in.

In a normal presidency it would be a disaster. But in this one it's a triumph. It seems the parking lot came with built-in jack-hammers, because these one hundred days have also been a time of massive protests, of Americans going to town hall meetings and putting pressure on their representatives in Congress. Of the liberal media reporting truthfully, the New York Times and the Washington Post in a perpetual bun fight for who can get the biggest truth out first and most often.

Slate, Mother Jones, Politico, Salon, Vanity Fair, Daily Beast, HuffPost, The New Yorker, Reuters, Alternet, even Teen Vogue, to mention a few, all have their take as politics takes center stage. CNN, SkyNews and BBC anchors and hosts are relentlessly driving truth home. Comedians and cartoonists are having a field day. Twitter and Facebook are red-hot with protest and shared information.

Barack and Michelle Obama, have taken their break and are back in action, not as politicians, but as civilians. So is Hillary Clinton. And Bernie Sanders, is still in the Senate, and plugging away with Tom Perez for the Democratic Party. They all have huge followings.

Democrats in the House and Senate are fighting for all they're worth. Mike Flynn was forced to resign, Jeff Session and Devin Nunes' lies were exposed, forcing them to recuse. The repeal and replace Obamacare fiasco fizzled.  Judges have blocked two attempts at Muslim bans, and at defunding sanctuary cities. Democrats refused to pass a bill that had money in it to fund the wall with Mexico. The major tax overhaul has been limp dick. The economy only grew at 0.7% for these past three months, down from 2.1% in the previous quarter. That would be during Obama's time, the man who ruined the US.

All of Trump's major Make America Great Again campaign promises and most of his 282 all-time promises (tracked by the Washington Post) have come to nothing. Which doesn't, of course, affect his base, but it does everybody else. And they're the ones who will count in 2018 and beyond.

And then there is the Russia probe. The investigations into Russian interference in the election, and into Trump collaboration with them, gain momentum despite all the frantic attempts at distraction. Accusing Obama and then GCHQ of wire-tapping, Devin Nunes' fake-evidence collaboration with Trump which fizzled. The attack on a Syrian airbase that achieved nothing, leaving the runway intact. The MOAB dropped on an ISIS target. North Korea threatened with a possible invasion by an armada, which embarrassingly turned out to be one ship travelling in the opposite direction.

None of it is impacting at all on the forward movement of that pesky Russia probe, which now has four official investigative bodies. And all the investigative functions of the liberal press.

Which is not to say that America, the planet or the rest of the world is safe. There'll be no safety until this administration changes. But the Republican Party, with all the power on paper that it finally has, can't unite to utilize that power effectively. The understaffed, ill-equipped administration is falling apart. And Trump, for all his braggadocio, is visibly losing steam—admitting for the first time yesterday that the job was much harder than he realized that it would be, and pretty much expressing regret. Not surprising, given his approval ratings, and how much he is hated, distrusted, laughed at and scorned.

Paving the way to pull out? Paradise Revisited.

Friday, April 14, 2017

#TrumpRussia: The Mother of All Crises As Trump Provokes Sociopath Leaders

The other day Donald Trump gave a press conference to speak about the mother of all bombs dropped in Nangahar Province in Eastern Afghanistan, 'targeting' a tunnel complex used by ISIS.

As usual, Trump didn't tell the truth, which is that the Obama administration set up the preparations for using the bomb there, against ISIS. All Trump, or somebody at the Pentagon, had to do was give the order. Who actually did is still unclear, notwithstanding Trump's boast that he told his military, the best military in the world, to use the bomb, making it sound as if the whole idea was his from the first, and was the result of well-thought out strategy.

He made no mention that the Intelligence regarding the tunnels was gathered in the Obama Administration, or that he has widened the powers of the Pentagon, so they didn't actually need his permission, and glaringly, he did not directly say that he personally approved of the mission, giving himself an out. He can blame the generals if the mission is proved a failure, as he did of the strike in Yemen, which killed too many civilians.

Trump did say, however, that the Obama Administration could have used the MOAB—Massive Ordinance Air Blast, aka Mother of All Bombs—but failed to do so, implying weakness on their part.

No mention that all the preparation had been done by them, or that the bomb has never been used before because it cannot be targeted and the possibility of massive collateral damage was too enormous to just drop it without thought. As has been proved time and time again, thoughtful planning is not a requisite in this Administration.

In an email to, Ian Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, explained that the MOAB sucks all the oxygen out of the air for a mile in all directions and sets it alight, so the collateral damage is extensive. In an unpopulated area such as Nangahar, 25% of those killed or injured will be civilians. And extensive damage will have been done to infrastructure, making the harmful impact a great deal more extensive than injuries and deaths.

All of these facts contribute to the reason the Obama—and even the Bush—Administration had been hesitant to use the MOAB. Not so Donald Trump. In full-flight bragging mood, he said that the strike was another tremendous success.

For "success" read "failure", not least of which are that National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, caught lying with his pants on fire, was forced to resign; AG Jeff Sessions, also caught lying, had to recuse himself from the Russian intervention investigation; two Muslim bans masquerading as Travel bans have been blocked; Trumpcare was a disaster; the utterly unfounded accusation that Obama wiretapped Trump and that GCHQ knew about it made Trump a laughing stock of the world.

Devin Nunes, leading the House Investigation into #TrumpRussia, is now in the crosshairs of Washington ethics watchdogs for attempting to divert the Russia probe, mishandling classified information, and—you got it—lying. Like Jeff Sessions he had to recuse himself. The only success in 83 days has been Neil Gorsuch's confirmation as Supreme Court Justice. And that had nothing to do with Donald Trump.

Militarily, there have been no successes either. The strike in Yemen, which killed 30 innocent civilians, including 10 women and children, was such a failure that Trump distanced himself from it and blamed the failure on the generals. Then there was the Syrian airstrike which has turned into a total fiasco. Everybody was talking about Syria and how Trump's strategy has centered on a turnaround on Russia, and supporting the UN.

Then MOAB, and now Trump is provoking Kim Jong-un. Strategy has nothing to do with it. Trump is fumbling in the dark. He's never had any coherent plan; you have to understand your subject to be able to formulate one. Trump has no knowledge of anything. He's just a mean spirited, extremely unintelligent, compulsive liar with impulses he can't control. He instinctively knows how to rabble-rouse, how to con people, and how to create chaos.

He's followed that instinct since he started campaigning. By instinct he's wagging the dog. It's not intelligent strategy. Trump doesn't have the smarts for that.

For heaven's sake, he reads speeches and signs executive orders (or forgets to) without understanding the content, or having any knowledge of the subject. When he was reading his speech on Syria after the strike, he couldn't afford to take his eyes off the sheet of paper for more than a couple of words. Somebody could have written gobbledygook and, none the wiser, he would have read it out with his ludicrous attempt at a Churchill imitation which fools nobody and only succeeds in making Trump look like a very dull-witted praying mantis.

He's never had to deal with consequences. Suddenly he had to. He was told what to do regarding the fall-out with Putin and Assad after the airstrike, but again, it wasn't his strategy, or anybody else's. They were all just frantically trying to put out fires, amid infighting and back-stabbing. The idea that a strike that didn't take out the runway and was never going to be followed up could possibly be effective in scaring either Putin or Assad is laughable.

Putin is way, way ahead of Trump, Nikki Haley, and of Rex Tillerson too. He knows more about American politics than any of them. So this whole affair will settle down with absolutely nothing achieved for America and with some wretch having to wipe the egg off Donald Trump's face.

It would have gradually faded from the news, as the #TrumpRussia investigation, which is still in full sway, hit the headlines again. But then there was MOAB, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the world, to suck up everybody's attention. The shock wave could be heard for miles and miles, And the headlines made shock waves around the world. International news broadcasters had a field day.

In the meantime, whether it's in the news or not, Putin has come out of the Syrian episode having entrenched his bully position and confirmed his understanding that the Trump administration is putty in his hands, the UN is utterly toothless in the matter of Syria, and Assad is free to continue doing whatever he wants, perpetrating crimes against humanity.

And the military industrial complex is off and running again. Donald Trump's Pentagon is free to drop bombs, cause collateral damage, waste lives. Somebody's making a lot of money out of this. One MOAB costs the US taxpayer $16 million to manufacture.

This reckless president, who doesn't have a clue what he's doing, who is influenced by the Machiavellian agenda of whoever talks the sweetest at any given moment, shoots his mouth off whenever he feels like it. People found his antics laughable when he was campaigning. Not so laughable now is the mess he has already made of domestic policy and the chaos that has descended on international relations.

Least laughable is the reality that Trump, in the Syrian airstrike, in taking out ISIS tunnels the way he did, and in his previous rabid anti-Muslim rhetoric, has no doubt enraged ISIS leadership and members, securing a target on his own back and that of his family and Administration, but worse than that, on the entire US. Add to that the dick-waving, childish and dangerous threats he is leveling at Kim Yong-un, a sociopath megalomaniac who is fast developing the capacity to nuke the US, and who has a large stockpile of chemical weapons, weapons that could be attached to modified long-range missiles.

Vladimir Putin recently accused the US of destroying world order. Ironically, although his reasoning is spurious, there's truth in what he says. Ultimately, this is a game of wag the dog, its sole purpose being to distract Americans from Trump's involvement in Russia. That he's going about it so clumsily doesn't diminish the lethal effects of the game.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sean Spicer: Hitler Didn't Gas His Own People - Just in "Holocaust Centers"

Arrogant, disrespectful, ignorant, intellectually challenged, depraved, abhorrent; these are the words that spring to mind. Having glibly said that Hitler didn't use gas, Sean Spicer's recent frank admission that he made a mistake did nothing to assuage the fury about his ignorance, and that he tried to patch up his mistake by saying that Hitler didn't use gas on his own people, just in the Holocaust Centers. Not his own people? The Holocaust Centers?

Spicer, falsifier-in-chief, seems to utterly miss another point; the ongoing outrage that a press secretary for an American president is an ill-informed boor with such utter absence of integrity. He knows the president doesn't tell the truth and that as press secretary he lies to cover for his boss, and he doesn't care about it. Truth has no value for him. Evidenced by what he said in a talk at Chicago University early this year, "I have never lied... because if you lose the respect and trust of the press corps, you've got nothing. To go out and tell an all-out lie is something that's just not acceptable."

He hasn't changed much since his college days, where, as a student senator, he was called Sean Sphincter by the student paper The College Voice. He tried to instigate college legal action against them and sent in a pompous, angry complaint, for which he was satirized by another student paper Blats.
"Sean Spicer can talk and talk and talk, and after the dust settles and after the air is still, man mouths are quivering in awe and wonder at the way Sean can spin his yarn out for miles, without saying anything of consequence."
It's hard to comprehend how he ever became a communications director for various political bodies. Except of course that he's worked for Republicans, for whom the word communication doesn't mean imparting truth. He was the RNC Communications Director for six years before working for the Trump administration. You know a man by the friends he keeps.

It was easy to be passionate about politics when the Obamas were in the White House. It was frustrating and infuriating to watch the low-minded Republican Party with its obstructionist tactics relied on principles that are their core were driven by the need to protect the wealthy, white, conservative and often Christian element in America. But at least the President, First Lady, and members of the Administration were admirable in every respect. Classy, driven by integrity, brilliant, super-qualified, and good at their jobs. The world was safe with its most powerful country in their hands. And the press secretaries were a pleasure to listen to.

But this current Administration is inexperienced, boastful, utterly unqualified, mean-spirited and incompetent. And too intellectually challenged even to realize how they reveal their own stupidity every day. They can't formulate a single strategy among themselves. There's infighting, back-stabbing, disloyalty, outright betrayals, and a steady stream of lies and attacks on the foundations of democracy, taken straight out of Vladimir Putin's playbook, and even Adolph Hitler's.

Not only have they and their august leader made America a target of international scorn and satire, but they've made the world significantly unsafe already, in 82 days. Yet another record for the Trump administration, which has broken so many, all of them shameful.

Everybody is talking about how exhausting it is to try and keep abreast of the disasters, untruths, and missteps that have come to characterize the government. Americans and people around the world implored each other never to let this become the new normal and so far it hasn't. But it's sickening to read about and watch this crew of heartless, soul-less, gutless wonders every day. CNN giving Sean Spicer airtime every day has become painful. One learns as much about the truth with the sound muted. 

It's necessary to stay informed, but doing so taking its toll on everybody, from citizens to politicians to journalists and TV anchors and hosts. Passion in politics was easy when there were people of integrity in the White House who not only knew what they were doing but were also beautifully articulate. It has turned into a dreary affair, having to watch and listen to a president, his administration and various staff who have all earned their place in this idiocracy.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Cool Reception to Mike Flynn's Request for Immunity

“When you are given immunity, that means that you probably have committed a crime.” So said Mike Flynn on September 25 last year, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press". Then-Republican candidate Donald Trump said "if you haven't committed a crime why would you ask for immunity, right?"

Flynn, conspiracy theorist, arbiter of fake news prior to the election, was also a "lock her up" cheerleader at the Republican National Convention. He and Trump were, of course, speaking about then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and the alleged crime for which she was endlessly investigated and publicly hung, drawn and quartered despite having been found to have committed no crime. 

In the week prior to the 2016 election, Flynn tweeted "U decide - NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc… MUST READ!" The allegations were of course baseless. This was the man Donald Trump chose for White House National Security Adviser. 

In the previous year, Flynn spoke at a Russian state-owned media RT Television gala in Moscow. Jill Stein also attended the gala. Flynn, however, was paid $45,000 plus  expenses. RT is well known to be a propaganda outlet controlled by Vladimir Putin. It has been used successfully to propagate fake news and influence both the ultra right and the ultra left in the US and countries in Europe.

Flynn was forced to resign his post within a month when it was revealed, in an ironic twist, by  Intelligence, that he had lied in his confirmation hearing about meeting any Russian officials. In fact he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Speculation about deeper involvement has been rife.

Now Flynn has offered his testimony to the FBI and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, in exchange for immunity. So far the reception has been cool.  Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Rep Adam Schiff, D-Calif, released a statement, saying, "We should first acknowledge what a grave and momentous step it is for a former National Security Advisor to the President of the United States to ask for immunity from prosecution." 

It is unclear what Mike Flynn's motivation is, but he has the support of Donald Trump, as expressed, naturally, in a tweet, which undermines the idea that Flynn has any real information to offer, especially considering his past obsession with conspiracy theories, and his predilection for alternative facts. 

The White House has recently made significant efforts to distract attention from the investigations into possible collusion between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign—and indeed Donald Trump himself. But Democrats on the hill are not fooled, and nor will they be taken in by any games if Flynn is playing them, with or without the president's endorsement. As Adam Schiff added in his statement,
"Additionally, as with any investigation—and particularly one that grows in severity and magnitude by the day—there is still much work and many more witnesses and documents to obtain before any immunity request from any witness can be considered. 
As but one example, during our open hearing I made a formal request of the agencies to provide Mr. Flynn's background check document, SF-86, so we can determine whether he properly reported any work he may have conducted on behalf of a foreign entity. We have yet to receive those documents. 
Moreover, when the times comes to consider requests for immunity from any witness, we will of course require a detailed proffer of any intended testimony." 

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.