The Silence of the Wolves – Profiles in Cowardice

As reported in the Washington Post, Republicans in Congress, who swore an oath requiring, among other things, that they execute their constitutional duties as a check and balance against the Executive Branch, have once again shown their lack of integrity, responsibility and courage by refusing to even talk about Trump’s attacks on Omarosa Manigault Newman whom the president of the United States called a “dog,” among other things because she wrote a “tell all” book about her time in the White House.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), second ranked Republican Senator, reportedly said,

“I’ve got more important things on my mind, so I really don’t have a comment on that.”

When asked whether any of Trump’s statements on race made Cornyn uncomfortable, the good senator said,

 “I think the most important thing is to pay attention to what the president does, which I think has been good for the country.”

What those great deeds are is left to our imagination. Cornyn’s deflection of the question translates to “I don’t mind if the president is a racist as long as he does other good things,” presumably referring to the tax cut, one of the few clear legislative acts Trump has led into law. He refused to talk about what his constituents think about Trump’s remarks, calling the question “an endless little wild goose chase and I’m not going there.” Yessir, the question whether the president of the United States and the leader of your party is a racist is of no importance compared to a deficit-exploding tax cut for the rich. Well played.

The Post says it “reached out to all 51 Republican senators and six House Republican leaders asking them to participate in a brief interview about Trump and race. Only three senators agreed to participate: Jeff Flake of Arizona, David Perdue of Georgia and Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the Senate.”

Flake had negative observations about Trump’s long history of racist remarks (“it’s been one thing after another”), but, of course, Flake is “retiring” at the end of his term so it’s pretty easy for him to “stand up” to Trump, particularly when he is not being asked to actually vote on anything.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, another Trump sometime objector (he almost always voted as Trump wanted) who is leaving Congress in January, was also critical of the “divisive” approach on racial issues: “I think that’s their kind of governing. I think that’s how they think they stay in power, is to divide.”

The most remarkable thing about all this is that “Several other lawmakers said they did not like some of Trump’s language, especially on race, but did not consider Trump to be racist.” Hmmh. You can talk like a racist all day but still not be one?

This insight makes one wonder how a Republican identifies a racist. If it’s not their words, what are the hallmarks of a real racist? White robe with eye holes? They burn a cross in your yard? They lynch you?

The Post reports that,

 “Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said Trump’s description of former black adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman as a “dog” was “not appropriate, ever.” But he stopped short of pointing to a time when he felt the president had crossed a racial boundary.”

“I just think that’s the way he reacts and the way he interacts with people who attack him.” ….“I don’t condone it. But I think it’s probably part built into his — it’s just going to be in his DNA.”

So, another insight into Republican “thought processes.” You can have racist attitudes in your DNA but that doesn’t mean you’re a racist. No wonder Republicans are anti-science and think climate change is a hoax.

We have to recognize and call out racism when it is found and regardless of how it is manifested. The Post reported that “In a January Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted immediately after Trump called African nations “s—hole” countries, 52 percent of Americans said Trump is biased against black people. But among Republicans, 16 percent said Trump is biased against blacks while 79 percent said he was not.”  [emphasis added]

To make matters worse, the Post says, “The president’s defenders say that he is not racist nor is he exploiting the country’s existing racial divisions. Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing Russia probe, noted several prominent African Americans with whom the president gets along.

“If the presidents likes you, he likes you — white, black, whatever,” Giuliani said. “He’s not a fan of Omarosa, but he’s become a fan of Kanye West. He likes Tiger Woods, but he doesn’t like LeBron James.”

So, yet another insight. The president is not a racist because “some of his best friends are black.” Uh huh.

And here’s another insight. Ari Fleischer, former press secretary under George W. Bush, reportedly believes that while Trump is wasting opportunities to woo minority voters, there exists a “line between being a boor and being a racist.”

So, making racist comments is just being boorish. Like spitting out an olive pit at a Republican cocktail party. Totally uncouth. Fleischer went on to blame Democrats for claiming all Republican candidates are racists. They lack credibility on the race issue, he said.

Talk about deflection: “yes, my boss, the president, makes constant racist-like remarks but since you are always upset about racist-like remarks, the fault lies with you and not with him.” Remarkable.

So, I hope this little trip through Republican land has illuminated your thinking about what shows that one is a racist. Republicans seem more than a little confused on the question, but not the rest of humanity. If you’re near any Republicans and you happen to be African-American, Latino, an immigrant, almost anything but a white male, watch your back.

Laugh Until You Cry

An article in Newsweek by Emily Zogbi at https://bit.ly/2MppR5G, entitled Trump And Money: The Court Case That Could Blow His Finances Open,” reports that the Justice Department is resisting discovery requests by the plaintiffs (the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia) in a case claiming that Donald Trump’s continued business connection to the Trump International Hotel in Washington is resulting in violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

The Emoluments Clause says, in pertinent part:

“…no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

An “emolument” has been broadly defined by the judge in the case as “any profit, gain or advantage of more than de minimis value, received directly or indirectly.” https://bit.ly/2BoIJwi

This approach, consistent with the historical roots of the Emoluments Clause, raises the issue whether Trump is benefiting financially from foreign firms and officials who choose now to stay in his hotel when visiting Washington.

The dispute over discovery relates to Donald Trump’s financial records and, since discovery is normally broadly permitted if it is likely to produce or lead to the production of admissible evidence regarding the matters at issue, there is likely panic in the Trump legal team and the White House. What Trump and his lawyers are most afraid of is that the document discovery will compel the release of his tax returns that he promised repeatedly he would disclose, then recanted, along with most other transparency commitments.

Now, here’s the laugher: the cited article notes that “the Justice Department objects to any “discovery” on a sitting president.” because “any discovery would necessarily be a distraction to the President’s performance of his constitutional duties.”

This “distraction” argument might have some force in some case (it didn’t concern the Republicans during the Clinton impeachment proceedings), but it’s a pathetic joke when applied to Donald Trump. It is undisputed that the president spends hours a day watching Fox News and similar right-wing propaganda sources, not to mention his Twitter habit, whereby he tweets constantly when events don’t go as he likes. That is virtually every day – in the past 24 hours, it appears he has issued at least 17 tweets, attacking people and newspapers, proclaiming his innocence of crimes and more. And, of course, there is his golf habit. As of March 2018, Trump spent almost 25 percent of his time at one of his golf courses. https://cnn.it/2FPWwL4 He reportedly refuses to read briefing books, or any books actually.

The argument that divulging his financial records, which Trump himself almost certainly never personally touches, is preposterous in light of Trump’s daily habits. The small amount of time required for Trump to participate in the document discovery process can be deducted from his daily TV, ranting and golf time without interfering one bit with the performance of his real responsibilities as chief executive of the United States.

By the way, this situation does not fit into the phony narrative spewed by Rudy Giuliani today on a TV interview in which he said, “truth isn’t truth.” His cited proof was a conflict of statements between Trump and James Comey. Giuliani’s argument is ludicrous for multiple reasons. Two of them are: (1) the President is lying and Comey is not; therefore, there is truth in what Comey said, regardless of Trump’s denials; (2) if there is no truth, then Trump’s declarations of innocence are all false and he is guilty of, among other things, obstruction of justice, collusion with a foreign power to interfere with a national election, violations of federal election laws and treason.

Manifestly, a conflict about whether an event happened or a statement was made does not mean there is no truth. It means there is a conflict that must be resolved and one of the ways we do that in litigation is through discovery. The gang of autocrats and enablers in the White House can’t have it both ways just because a lawyer says “yes is no” and “up is down.” That may have worked in the Humpty Dumpty tale, but not in real life. If Giuliani’s position that all statements about facts are equally true, even if in direct and irreconcilable conflict, he has walked his client into yet another legal dead-end.

Amazon Strikes Again

I don’t want to be seen as having some kind of crazy consumer’s vendetta against #Amazon, because I don’t. But I do believe that a company of Amazon’s scale has an obligation to conduct its business with some regard for its environmental impact. It appears to be failing at that and, given all the threats to the environment by the Trump administration and companies that place corporate interests ahead of the planet’s welfare, this warrants a call-out.

In an earlier post, I complained about what I saw as wasteful packaging procedures involving the use of boxes significantly larger than necessary to move the items in question. Since then, I have placed an order for eight items from Amazon Prime Pantry. The Pantry is the name @Amazon chose for grocery-like items that it now sells. “Grocery-like” is my term but is generally accurate for this service, except that there are many items “located” there that are also sold in drug stores like CVS.

Here is what I found when I opened the enormous box:

The photos tell the story. I was stunned at the size of the box used to ship the eight items which, together, occupied 2040 cubic inches (just shy of 1.2 cubic feet) of space. The box holds 4663.75 cubic inches of space (2.7 cubic feet), more than twice what was necessary for the items in question. The remainder of the space was filled with 4” x 7” plastic air bags, 85 of them!

I understand that it is sometimes unreasonable to expect the packaging to match precisely the combined size of the contents, but that was not the case here. Not even close. This and the package covered in the previous post are not the only times I have seen this.

Compare this photo of a recent coffee order received from Keurig, where the seven boxes almost exactly fit the outer box:

Amazon must do better at operating consistently with the interests of the planet and not just to maximize profits, though one would think that wasting packaging material on this scale leads to higher than necessary costs. You would think self-interest would drive the company to operate more efficiently. Maybe it would if enough customers complained. Amazon, don’t make me come down there!

Sleight of Hand by MLB and Facebook

The Washington Nationals are fighting for their 2018 lives from six games behind Atlanta or Philadelphia (varies by week as to who is in first place). Today, the Nats finish a 4-game homestand against Atlanta and they are down 2 games to 1. The final game of the set is today, playing as I write. To my complete surprise, the game is not being broadcast by MLB-TV through normal channels. Instead, as so cleverly put by MLB-at-Bat, to which I subscribe along with MLB-TV so I can watch the Nats games while living in New York City, the game is being live-streamed on Facebook as part of what is called the MLB-Facebook “partnership.” See screenshot below:

So, I did what I was prompted to do, but not my phone. I did it on the larger iMac screen. And, well, well, what do we have here but a collection of mandatory “free” subscriptions to various streaming services, including a demand for full credit card information even while  being assured that the card will not be charged.

 

Depending on which viewing option you select, you are presented with a mandatory signup for a “trial membership:”

Not a chance. If I wanted my credit card information in the hands of random streaming services, I would seek them out. MLB is using its “partnership to try to leverage fans into these services. I might not have been so offended by this abuse if, in announcing that today’s game would only be available by streaming on Facebook, MLB had disclosed that viewing the game that way would require opening a “free” account with a livestreaming service other than MLB-TV.

It seems likely that this scheme will induce some fans to sign up for these streaming services and on that basis MLB and Facebook will record the scheme as a win for them. What they will not count are the fans like me who are deeply disturbed by this game-playing with subscribers. This deal ranks right down there with what I was told a year ago – that I could purchase post-season tickets only if I also bought a block of tickets for the next season. I rejected that ridiculous proposal as well and added it to the reservoir of resentment against MLB teams’ manipulative schemes to force people to buy tickets.

As a fan, I want the Nationals to prosper and be competitive and also want the game of baseball to succeed. But, MLB is flirting with the limits of greed already, with obscene player salaries, sky-high ticket prices and concession stand charges that can kill your appetite faster than a cold plate of greasy nachos.

Dodge Ball on Capitol Hill

If you were fortunate enough to miss the coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which Michael Pompeo, the current Secretary of State, testified, you missed little of substance.

If, for example, you were hoping that the Secretary of State would illuminate the recent “private” meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, about which no reliable information, indeed no information of any kind, has heretofore been revealed, your hopes were dashed. While Pompeo claims to have been fully briefed by Trump regarding the pas de deux with Putin, he provided no substantive insights, raising the possibility, stated by several senators, that in fact he had not been actually briefed and that, in any case, he could not be sure that Trump was telling the truth.

To say that the exchanges were testy to the point of personal hostility would be an understatement. This is not altogether surprising. In constitutional theory, the Senate is part of the checks and balances against the substantial power of the Executive Branch. History teaches that the Executive Branch, while uttering the usual niceties, is often unhappy being called to account before the Congress. Rough and tumble exchanges are common and the Pompeo hearing was no exception.

Try though he might, however, Pompeo, like Rex Tillerson before him and like the other Trump enablers in the Cabinet, cannot make sense of Trump’s approach to leadership. When confronted with blatantly contradictory statements from Trump, Pompeo tried to say that both were in fact statements of U.S. policy and that both statements, though flatly contradictory, were true. Yes is the same as No. Up is the same as Down.

That is, of course, right out of the Trump Chaos Playbook. He doesn’t care whether what he says is true or false because, like his role as bullying chief executive of his business empire, he knows the Republican Party will not hold him to account.  In Trump’s world a lie is just as good, often better, than the truth. That may explain why he lies so often and so consistently about almost everything to do with the government and his businesses.  Pompeo went out of his way to “assure” the Senate committee that Trump was personally and tightly in control of everything that was going on in the Executive Branch.

This was likely Pompeo’s way of signaling Trump that he was loyal to the core. The point has other implications, of course. If it is true, and Pompeo was emphatic about it, Trump has been deprived of any Nixonian claim that he didn’t know what was going on, that no one told him. Pompeo made clear that Trump is aware of everything and decides everything. This means that Trump is personally responsible for the destruction of the environment at the hands of the EPA, for the undermining of American public education at the hands of the very rich but apparently quite stupid Secretary of Education and for the Republican undermining of the health insurance system. Hearing Pompeo, Trump was doubtless beaming like the Cheshire Cat. Trump’s Humpty Dumpty style of “leadership,” where words mean whatever he or his enabler-of-the-day says they mean including nothing at all, may play well with his political base but he could be due for a big fall from the wall. Especially if Michael Cohen, former Trump “fixer,” can make stick his reported claim that Trump knew about and approved the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. We can reasonably assume that Special Prosecutor Mueller has taken note of Pompeo’s tagging of Trump

BRAKING NEWS: Transcript of Private Trump-Putin Meeting Leaked

Washington, D.C. (former capitol of the United States) July 21, 2018

A partial transcript of the “no witnesses” meeting in Helsinki between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has been provided to select media. It is reported that upon seeing the transcript, Fox News mouthpiece Sean Hannityovich said, “gaaahhorgggahiyi” and collapsed on the floor with foam streaming from his mouth. He was rushed to the local Minute Clinic and there is no official report on his condition.

The transcript is now believed to have been obtained and leaked by Melania Trump, First Lady of the former United States. It reads as follows:

[Trump & Putin shake hands and sit down; translators sit down also]

Trump: Well, Vladimir, here we are at last, just like I promised. Just you and me, babe. What do you want to talk about?

Putin: Donald, let’s cut to the chase, ok?

Trump: Wait, hold on! You speak English?

Putin: Of course, I do, Donald. What do you think I was doing all those years in the KGB? I am totally conversant in your language. It will be a shame when we have to ban it.

Trump: Wow. You really speak good English. As good as me and I have the very best words.  Everyone says so. I am impressed, Vladimir. I always knew you were smart. Not as smart as me, of course, but still pretty …

Putin: Enough about you, Donald. In fact, how about you just shut up for a few minutes so we can get some work done. I did not agree to this meeting just to make you look good.

Trump: Ok, ok, Vlad, don’t be upset. Whatever you want is ok with me.

Putin: Good. I thought it would be since you are president only because of the interference in the U.S. election that I ordered.

Trump: Well, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think? I mean, look at how many electoral votes I got….

Putin: Yeah, but what about her emails?

Trump: You got my message just right. I said, “Russia, if you’re listening …

Putin: I know what you said, Donald. Your American news media play it on TV every damn day! Listen to me. I have a very important thing to say.

Trump: [leaning in] I’m all ears, Vlad. What’s that?

Putin: You are going to invite me to visit the United States.

Trump: Sure, no problem. When you’re a star, they let you do what you want….

Putin: And while I’m there, I am going to defect.

Trump: …. Uh…er….

Putin: I am serious, Donald. You can close your mouth now. You remember when you made that comment about shithole countries? Well, Russia is one. I am sick of the winters here, the intrigues that never stop, people trying to stab you in the back, literally. All my opponents keep committing suicide, making me look bad. And, besides, I’ve always wanted to own a real democracy.

Trump: But, Vlad, I mean, uh, what would that do?

Putin: Nothing that you need to concern yourself with, Donald. You will move back to New York City, play golf every day, if you like. Live the life you always wanted.

Trump: They hate me in New York.

Putin: Yeah, well, what goes around comes around. But, listen, Donald, they are going to put you in jail. You have violated their constitution and made a hash of the U.S. government. I know how to run things efficiently. I will move into the White House. Melania can stay there if she wants. You know she sounds more like a Russian than an American. All will be well. Believe me.

[end of transcript]

Treason – Why Do They Do It?

The events of the past few days do not need recounting. By now, anyone who is awake is aware that the President of the United States adhered to and gave aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States. I define “enemy” here as a country that interferes in the internal politics of our democracy to prejudice the outcome of an election. My view is that because the Constitution sets out three separate forms of treason, only one of which involves “war” as such, it is possible to commit treason with a country as to which the United States is not technically “at war.” And I believe Trump clearly did that in Helsinki. No amount of later backpedaling and doubletalk can cancel what he did, especially recognizing that he insisted on a no-witnesses meeting with Putin that lasted for several hours.

The Constitutional definition of “treason” is stated as follows in Article III, Paragraph 3:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open court.”

I am aware that there is a lot of debate among legal scholars and historians about the exact meaning of Article III’s definitions and I don’t propose to recount or resolve them here. Instead, I am interested in the underlying question: why does anyone commit treason? In simpler terms, what would motivate an officer of the United States, and in particular the highest officer, to side with a foreign country engaged in hostile acts against his country when such alignment is resisted by most or all of his most senior and experienced advisors?

That question has now risen in importance as a result of the travesty of Donald Trump bowing and scraping before Vladimir Putin at the Finland joint press conference. Even members of Trump’s own party are asking the question because they conceive of no explanation that makes sense. His later “I meant ‘wouldn’t’ instead of ‘would’” warrants no more comment or analysis than just “look at the video and you will see he meant what he said: ‘would.’

The possible reasons for committing what I, and many knowledgeable commenters, believe was an act of treason include at least the following:

  • Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor
  • Mental illness such as to fundamentally impair his ability to make decisions
  • Stupidity
  • Money/Avarice
  • Power
  • Blackmail

There may be some I haven’t thought of but for now this is the list. Let’s consider them one by one.

Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor: I dismiss this one out of hand because Trump appears not to have a consistent ideology of any kind. He adopted the mantle of Conservative Republican when it suited his political ambitions but historically he has been all over the place on matters of ideology. There is no reason I have seen (confessing I might have missed it) that he would be attracted to communism or socialism. Ultra-right fascism is definitely a possibility, given his pre- and post-election tendency to morally equate the actions of white supremacist/Nazi/alt-Right extremists with those of the progressive Left. He clearly is attracted to authoritarian leaders – aside from Putin, Duterte of the Philippines comes to mind. Trump’s business history is that of a bully who pushes around and cheats people who are not in a position to fight back on an equal footing. 

Mental Illness:  Many experts and non-experts alike have addressed the question whether Trump has a “mental illness,” a “personality disorder,” or dementia of some kind. I don’t know the answer, of course, but am reluctant to argue that the fact of Trump’s seeing everything differently than I do is evidence of any of those things. Certainly, his behavior evinces a monstrously large ego, massive insecurity and need for approval and similar considerations, but whether those obvious characteristics would lead a person to commit treason seems weak. The same for his propensity to bully everyone to show that he is the bigger man, the most important person in the room/world.

Stupidity: To be clear, I believe Trump acts like an ignorant fool most all the time. He knows little or no history, reads little or nothing, declines to be briefed and appears to believe his massive intelligence overshadows all experts in all fields so that no one has anything useful to tell him. Still, can we conclude that he is just plain dumb? On the surface, at least, he is (was) an educated person. And he has had the resources to continue to be educated, though he seems to have affirmatively avoided taking in new information for decades. Trump is willfully uninformed about the important elements of his job, but does that mean his is too stupid, too ignorant to understand that aligning with a historical enemy of his country, run by a dictator (spare me the baloney about how Putin was “elected” in a democratic process in Russia)?

Money/Avarice:  Considering Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, the mounting evidence of secret business deals with Russians, his numerous lies about whether or not he has business relationships in Russia, and his and his family’s continuing to profit from incomes fed to his business empire by foreign interests, a plausible argument can be made that Trump would sell out his country simply to secure his business interests. It is possible that much of his past business activities have been funded by Russian interests. On the other hand, Trump is a very rich man and getting richer every day, often at the expense of the American taxpayer. So, would he commit treason for still more money? Possibly, because, for people like Trump, there is never enough money. The more they get, the more they want more. Always more.

Power: The president of the United States is reputedly the most powerful person in the world. What additional power would he expect to get by supporting a hostile foreign power against his own country? His party controls both houses of Congress already. He knows that cozying up to Vladimir Putin is worrisome or worse to even many Republican members of Congress who are otherwise slavering all over him to prove their loyalty (that he appears to value above all else, including competence). Yet, to borrow a contemporary meme, he persists. The power explanation rings true somewhat, especially when combined with the Money/Avarice option. It may be that my list oversimplifies a multi-element explanation. The answer may be a combination of personality disorder/willful ignorance/grasping for more personal and family wealth and power. Could be. But there is at least one other choice.

Blackmail: Since the disclosure of the Steele dossier (see https://bit.ly/2nFuZn4), rumors and stories have continued to surface about Trump being a Russian asset or at least subject to blackmail related either to personal misconduct in Russia or corrupt business dealings there. These views have gained new momentum in the wake of Trump’s bending the knee to Putin in Helsinki. There is no known way at the moment to verify this, although one hopes that the Mueller investigation is looking very deeply into the web of Trump-Russia connections and Trump’s inexplicable fondness for a historically hostile power. The extraordinary detail in the indictment of the 12 Russian hackers is an indication of the sophistication and thoroughness of U.S. counterintelligence expertise when aggressively applied in the hunt for traitors and their enablers.

Bottom Line: Spoiler alert: anticlimax coming.

I suspect that the awful reality is that, as suggested above, the explanation for Trump’s conduct toward Russia and Putin has multiple sources. Treason, especially by a president, is so serious that we must not yield to the temptation to believe in the simplest “explanation,” an “obvious” single cause.

Avoiding impatience is also important. Having conducted a corruption investigation early in my career, involving confidential “inside” sources, a conspiracy among multiple parties, some with “stellar reputations,” and serious efforts by numerous parties to hide the truth, I can attest to the importance of letting the painstaking, often tedious, investigative work proceed to whatever conclusion it will reach. The demands of Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress and elsewhere to “end the investigation” because it “has produced no evidence of collusion” are simply partisan and delusional wishful thinking. They have no idea what information is building inside the Mueller investigation and will not know, as we will not, until Mueller decides to conclude his work and report his findings.