Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trump's Web of Lies

It's the smoking gun. A trusted British intermediary with Russian connections (Rob Goldstone helped arrange Donald Trump's Moscow Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013) contacted Donald Trump, Jr. during the 2016 campaign race. He offered to set up a meeting "with a Russian government attorney" who would provide material that would "incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." He was explicit that this offer was part of a Russian government effort to swing the election in Trump's favor. The candidate's son, son-in-law Jared Kushner, who happens to be the President's most trusted confidante, and campaign manager Paul Manafort were also invited to the meeting, which took place in June of 2016. It's collusion with an adversarial foreign power to further its ends against the United States. To me it fits the textbook definition of treason as spelled out in Article III Section 3 of the Constitution. In addition, American campaign law makes it illegal for a campaign to "accept anything of value from a foreign government." And Trump himself is defending it. As was asked about Richard Nixon, what did the president know and when did he know it? I believe this is impeachable.

The progression of the web of lies is most instructive. Trump and his spokespeople denied any association with Russians beginning in September during the campaign, when Democratic emails began appearing and suspicion was first thrown on Russia as the originator. After the election, so did Trump's staff and nominees, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was later found to have met privately with the Russian ambassador at least twice. Gen. Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor, was found to have lied about his contacts with and promises to Russia in conversations he held between the election and Trump's inauguration. As more information began to come out, Trump took to calling each latest revelation "fake news" and whining that he was the subject of "the greatest witch hunt in political history." President Trump then had his Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General come up with derogatory performance evaluations of FBI Director James Comey to provide cover for his firing of the Director, to let him maintain the firing was not about Comey's investigation into Russian meddling in the election. Trump's public relations corps, including Press Secretary Sean Spicer, spread this story to every media outlet. In a subsequent interview with NBC's Lester Holt, Trump then stunningly exposed his own lie by asserting that he didn't need the evaluations, that he had already made up his mind and that the real reason for the dismissal was Comey's pursuit of the truth in the Russia investigation.

For his part, Trump Jr. knew about his meeting with the Russian agent lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya and let his father speak in error for 13 months without saying a word. That is lying by omission. Beyond that, it stretches credibility to think that a meeting including Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort would not have been known to candidate Trump, particularly since on the campaign trail he publicly called for Russia to hack Clinton's emails and release them. One can easily imagine Trump Junior eagerly telling his father about the oppo-research coup he was about to engineer thanks to the intelligence services of Mother Russia. We do not know yet for certain whether Trump Sr. knew, though between the press's continued digging and the investigation currently underway by former FBI Director Robert Mueller the truth seems to keep finding its way out. In fact, it was the New York Times's call to Trump Jr. that it had the incriminating emails and asking if he wanted to make a public statement they could include in the article they were working on that prompted him to pre-empt the Times by releasing the emails first himself. The President of course released statements praising his son for transparency, ignoring the fact he had lied about the events in question and come clean only after confronted by the Times

Even then the lies continued. The action was held to be "OK because everybody did it." Republican Senator Lindsay Graham was one of the first to fight back against that, pointing to the law and the adversarial nature of the Russian regime and saying, "When a foreign government wants to help your campaign the answer is always 'no.'" Trump Jr.'s "transparency" was quickly discredited when, after alleging that Veselnitskaya was the only Russian in the meeting, it has now come out that a Russian lobbyist and former Russian military man was also there, but ostensibly only to serve as interpreter, if that is to be believed. Trump Jr. also states that nothing of importance was discussed at the meeting, that Veselnitskaya made little sense and wanted only to discuss American adoption of Russian orphans. Anyone who believes that would probably be interested in some Florida swampland Mr. Trump might want to sell them. Having been caught in all the lies described above in today's blog, I leave it to the reader to evaluate to what extent the Messers Trump can be trusted on this contention. At any rate, as one after another of their lies are exposed, all trends point to the conclusion that the Trump campaign colluded with an authoritarian pariah regime currently under NATO sanction for aggression and human rights violations and working against American interests at every opportunity (witness their recent U.N. veto against increased sanctions on North Korea for its latest illegal missile tests). And what is especially remarkable is that for all their vast experience with lying, the Trumps don't seem to be very good at it. The truth is either dug out by the press, ratted out by people within the administration, or blurted out by the astonishingly undisciplined president himself. One thing that becomes increasingly difficult to believe is that this dumpster fire of a presidency will survive to complete its first term in office.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What Motivates Republican Health Care Proposals?

House Republicans passed a health care bill that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said would result in 23 million Americans losing their health insurance. Surveys indicate it is wildly unpopular with the American people. This past week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed the long-awaited Senate Republican health care bill, touted as an improvement over the House version. The CBO said it would result in 22 million people losing their health insurance.

While this may represent an improvement of a million over its House counterpart, this is improvement of the same kind as it being better to contract bubonic plague than the Ebola virus. Also heavily unpopular with the public, there were so many Republican senators voicing public opposition to McConnell's bill that he wound up withdrawing it from consideration. But don't be fooled. Another round of secret GOP deliberations is taking place with an eye to reintroducing something along similar lines in the near future.

You may be wondering, why are they coming up with "health care" bills that result in fewer people having health care? What do they really want? The key to understanding this from the Republican point of view is that these are not really health care bills at all. They are tax cuts, an issue much more dear to Republican hearts than saving people's lives with medical care. This effort is not about health care at all. It is about repealing the taxes President Obama and the Democratic congress imposed on high income earners to provide the funds to expand Medicaid for the poor by several million people and to provide the subsidies people of limited means are getting to make the purchase of health insurance affordable to them.

When these taxes are repealed there is no way to square the circle; Medicaid and premium assistance has to be cut. The only choices to be made are whose medical treatments to cut the most. The AMA, Hospital Associations, AARP, Urban League and Nurses Union all say these Republican repeal plans would be catastrophic. Harvard Medical School says upward of 45,000 Americans will die each year if these "reforms" are enacted. Yet saving the wealthy 3% on their taxes is more important to Republican politicians. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Moving To San Diego

Joan is now retired, our house has sold, and we'll be on our way to San Diego in a matter of days. Oldest daughter Jeanette made a surprise visit yesterday and presented Joan with her full-time grandmother credentials! The upcoming schedule looks like this: Wednesday the guys from Custom Auctions are coming to take items we aren't moving with us for sale at their weekend auctions. That includes our washer and dryer and some large furniture items like our main couch and formal dining table. We are downsizing to half our current square footage and need to pare things down. (The condo already has a washer and dryer, too.)

 Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing, house, tree, plant, grass, sky, outdoor and nature

Thursday the packing crew from Jack & Jeff Transfer, the local Bekins affiliate, will be here. Then on Friday they'll load everything up and take it away. Joan and I will remain in Visalia over the weekend, staying with friends Walt and Sheri Bentley Friday and Saturday nights. Friday we'll go out to dinner with friends. The Bentleys, John and Carole Greening, and Newell and Mary Ann Bringhurst will join us. Then if we can get tickets we hope to see "Holly," the story of Buddy Holly, at the Ice House Theater. Saturday evening the Episcopal Church will have a going-away barbecue for Joan, who has been the principal music minister there for the past seven years. She'll play at her last Sunday service, we'll say good bye to the folks, and then be off to begin our new life in SD.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Upcoming Rallies in Visalia and Farmersville

Today I want to highlight three opportunities for activism in the Tulare County area.

The first is tomorrow, Monday, at the Farmersville Memorial Day Parade. Susanne Gundy is looking for people to participate and help carry the Democratic Party banner on the march route. Lineup for the parade is at the corner of Visalia Road and Farmersville Road. Participants should arrive by 9:15 AM and the parade will be over by 11:30. Farmersville is a strongly Democratic city, so marchers should enjoy a generally positive response from the citizenry. Call Susanne Gundy at (559) 368-9464 to let her know of your interest or for more information.

Every Tuesday South Valley Civic is holding a "Replace Devin Nunes" rally outside the congressman's office in Visalia at the corner of Main and Church. It goes from 11:30 to 12:30.

This Tuesday May 30 South Valley Civic will be demonstrating outside the Gropetti Automotive dealerships, where Nunes will be holding a fundraiser for his wealthy patrons. As is customary for him, these are virtually the only people among his constituents he ever associates with. Gather at the corner of Ben Maddox and Noble Avenues. The demonstration is scheduled to go from 5:00 to 6:30 PM.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trump Convicts Himself by His Own Words

May 17, 2017 will be remembered as the day the investigation of Donald J. Trump got serious. Capping off an incredible eight days of increasingly explosive revelations and admissions, yesterday Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the appointment of a special prosecutor with wide-ranging powers to investigate all things Trump, Russia and any relevant obstructions of justice. In his message, Rosenstein wrote:
"What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command." 
The need for this became clear when by admissions from his own mouth, the President told of his own interference, using his position at the head of that chain of command to try to put a halt to an investigation of which he could be a subject, the FBI investigation looking into Russian hacking of the 2016 US election and the possibility of complicity from within the Trump presidential campaign. Until quite recently I was reserving judgment on the impeachment question. Three weeks ago I was asked by conservative friends whether "like most of those liberals you think Trump ought to be impeached." My response was "No, I certainly feel that's a little premature." I'm not reserving judgment any longer. Trump has, in my view, convicted himself by his own words.

Trump can't even stick to his own lies. When he fired FBI Director James Comey his Administration was ready with a concocted story, spread by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, that the initiative came only after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his Deputy Rod Rosenstein wrote letters to Trump castigating Comey's performance on the job and his handling of Secretary Clinton's email investigation last year and calling for his removal. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders said Trump "made the decision yesterday" and morale was at a low point in the FBI, whose agents had "lost confidence" in Comey. She said she had heard from "countless agents in the FBI" to this effect. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe flatly rejected these assertions, saying they were "not accurate."

Trump blew this carefully constructed web of justificatory lies to pieces in a nationally broadcast interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt. See the 13-minute interview here.
Trump admitted he had made the decision long before. He said he was going to fire Comey regardless of any recommendations. He admitted he had called Director Comey and asked if he were under investigation. He said he spoke with Comey at a private dinner at the White House and, in the context of Comey "wanting to keep his job" again pointedly asked if he were under investigation, the clear implication being that if he were, Comey's job might be in jeopardy. Trump said Comey assured him he was not being investigated, another assertion Acting Director McCabe has called "farcical." In the Holt interview Trump also let slip his real justification for the firing: that the Russian investigation is phony and must be stopped. By his own admission then, Trump told of the actions he took to short circuit an investigation of his own presidential campaign and his motives for doing so. These actions and the intents behind them constitute, in my judgment, a clear attempt to obstruct justice in this investigation. That is a crime and an impeachable offense.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was tabbed by Rosenstein as special counsel. Mueller served under both Presidents Bush and Obama, and is universally praised by Democrats and Republicans alike for his professionalism, honor, sense of justice and dedication to ethical principles. He will now conduct a thorough investigation with full power to issue subpoenas and bring indictments. He could even subpoena Trump's tax returns to determine ties to Russia, for instance. The highly public congressional committee investigations will continue. Mueller's inquiry will proceed out of sight of the television lights, but will, when it releases its findings, likely have more import. The presidency of Donald J. Trump is at stake, and if it falls it will be by Trump's own doing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

China Ready to Eclipse U.S. Economically

China is well on its way to eclipsing the United States as the world's number one economic power. The U.S. remains the largest economy for now but the margin is shrinking and China's GDP will surpass America's within the next five years. Once that is in place it will inevitably follow that China will similarly become the number one diplomatic, strategic and military power as well. This is happening because China is following a brilliant strategy to expand its reach and capabilities and the U.S. is following a foolish strategy of retrenchment.

This link will take you to a New York Times article detailing the trillion-dollar international investment program China is currently implementing. It includes things like a $6 billion railroad project into Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia, a $46 billion investment into electrical generation in Pakistan, the construction of a brand new port in Greece, and roads across Russia into Europe. It has already bought hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Africa and Latin America. All these are calculated to produce profits, grow China's influence in these regions, tie their economies to China's and speed the import of resources from and the export of Chinese products and financial influence into the targeted areas.

This is the fruit of the capital amassed beginning forty years ago when China threw off its Maoist economic ideology and relentlessly enlarged ever since in positive trade balances earned as manufacturer to the world. First the profits were used to develop China and now the continued surpluses are being reinvested to refashion the world into the Chinese economic orbit. Comparisons to the American Marshall Plan initiative of the late 1940s and early 1950s are strongly valid. The U.S. is and for some time has been a timid, inward-looking, short-sighted player by comparison. It's afraid to do big things now. Even a single modest high speed rail project in California is hamstrung by nay-saying and fought every step of the way. "We can't afford it," they say. So progress, growth are forfeited and the baton is being passed, or rather seized, by China.

This is not because of currency manipulation or some other form of chicanery. It's because China is being smart and we are not. If you do not spend to invest, modernize and expand, you languish and get surpassed. The U.S. is making some progress in things like green energy, but falls woefully short of the massive strides China is making on all fronts. Twenty years from now, when the nations of the world are clearly turning the cold shoulder to the U.S. and cozying up to China the US citizenry still won't understand why and how this all happened. But those of us who are paying attention, if we're still around, will. And we will obnoxiously be saying "I told you so."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Must Have a Special Prosecutor Now

Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey today has the smell of a man afraid that the investigation into Russian influence in his campaign is getting too close for comfort. Trump's next move will be to appoint a lap dog to head the FBI with marching orders to bury the Russia investigation once and for all. In his firing statement Trump referenced a recommendation by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation when it became public he lied under oath at his confirmation hearing about his repeated meetings with the Russian ambassador.

This is highly reminiscent of Richard Nixon firing Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973. That was the last time a president axed a prosecutor who was investigating himself. Nixon's action set off a firestorm that only ended with his resignation in disgrace the following year. Americans concerned about Trump's increasingly clear turn toward authoritarianism must focus on demanding that congress appoint a non-political Special Prosecutor so that the real facts can finally be determined.