Monthly Archives: March 2017

The White House Press Corps Must Do Its Job

Most weekdays White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer holds a Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, during which members of the White House “press corps” sit in a small room, listen to a recitation of White House “news” and, when signaled by Spicer, ask him questions. March 28 was No. 30 in the series. You can, if so inclined, read the transcripts of these events, with a day’s delay, at http://bit.ly/2nMPMqv. The contests are also covered on radio and sometimes on television. I caught part of the March 28 episode on radio, during which Spicer lambasted a reporter for “shaking your head” while he was rejecting her question, and decided to read the entire transcript.

Because the mission of the free press is to discover and report the factual news, what we might call reality or as close to reality as they can get, while the working hypothesis of the Trump administration is that the free press is out to get the President through “fake news” (i.e., anything Trump doesn’t like), these sessions often have a competitive edge to them. Indeed, you might say there is a lot of hostility, both expressed and implied. Some of this conflict is natural and has been around for decades. The White House always wants the news to be good and the press brings to the table an innate skepticism about much of what politicians have to say. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has, perhaps uniquely, declared open war on the press, describing it, in a phrase borrowed from dictators and autocrats over the ages, as the “enemy of the people.”

Turning to the Spicer performance, he said this:

“One of those places that he [Trump] hopes to find common ground with Senate Democrats … is the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  Yesterday, many Senate Democrats began declaring support for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s partisan filibuster of Judge Neil Gorsuch….

Leading Democrats have lamented these tactics as recently as last year [citing statements by Senator Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Senator Claire McCaskill who tweeted “[T]he constitution says the Senate shall advise and consent.  And that means having an up-or-down vote.”] ….

When the shoe was on the other foot, when a Supreme Court nominee for a Democratic President went through the confirmation hearings and meetings with senators from both parties, neither Justices Kagan nor Sotomayor faced an attempted Senate filibuster.  Both received Republican votes in support of their confirmations.

In fact, during the Kagan nomination, on the Senate floor, when Senate Leader Harry Reid planned to file a cloture motion to bring Kagan to a vote, it was then-Senator and now current Attorney General Jeff Sessions who … asked Senator Reid to proceed with a vote without the need for overcoming a Republican filibuster.

Judge Gorsuch has met with most of the Senate Democratic caucus.  He has gone through days of hearings and answered probing questions.  He is eminently qualified and deserves the deference and consideration from the minority Senate Democrats that President Obama’s selections were given once they had gone through the confirmation process.” [Italics added]

Wow! That one takes my breath away. Notice the phrasing “when a Supreme Court nominee for a Democratic President went through the confirmation hearings” and “once they had gone through the confirmation process.” That language enables Spicer to completely ignore the fact that the Republicans refused to give even a hearing to President Obama’s nominee for the same Supreme Court seat. Nicely done, Mr. Spicer. You juked and dodged around that one without a challenge!

Later, Spicer said: “… the President was pleased to see that Ford announced $1.2 billion investment in three manufacturing facilities in Michigan, just two weeks after automobile executives came to the White House and met with the President.”

Another whopper. Trump once again claims credit for something that Ford Motor Company, according to its President for the Americas, as reported in the Detroit News, has been working up for “quite some time. It’s a mixed bag here for what’s new.”  http://detne.ws/2nGDC24. Ford’s own announcement on March 28 did not mention Trump or their meeting. http://ford.to/2nedho9.

Eamon Javers of CNBC asked this:

“… the White House is saying that they’re going to reverse President Obama’s so-called “war on coal.”  But a lot of people in the coal industry suggest that jobs are just not going to come back in that industry, based on the way the industry has changed, technology and other things.  Does this administration have an estimate of how many jobs will be created as a result of the actions it’s taking today?

Spicer’s response: “I’m not aware of one, an estimate….” He went on the say that miners and mine owners who had been invited to the White House were big supporters and that was enough.

Clearly, the White House has no clear idea what the job-creating effects of the reversal of environmental restrictions on the coal industry will be. The administration is simply taking the word of the industry that it’s “going to make coal great again,” and is disregarding the painstaking work that went into the Clean Power Plan to estimate the benefits and costs, as required by law. The MCGA move will result in huge environmental damage while likely yielding an insignificant number of new jobs.

But that is small potatoes compared to what followed.

Francesca Chambers of Mail Online asked:

“Yesterday you weren’t able to tell us very much about Congressman Nunes’s visit to the … White House grounds to view classified information last week.  A Democrat on the committee today said that the White House would have known that he was here.  The same Democrat also said that it looked like a criminal cover-up to him.  My question to you is, have you learned any more information since we had this conversation yesterday about how he would have even gotten in and how he would have gotten cleared?

Here is Spicer’s response:

“I think the thing that’s important to note is there is somewhat of a double standard when it comes to classified information.  When leaks are made illegally to the press, and you all report them, the coverage focuses almost entirely on the substance of the allegation and that are part of an illegal lead, not on the illegal nature of the disclosure, the identity of the leaks, or their agenda.

But when the information that is occurring now, which is two individuals who were properly cleared — or three, or whoever he met with — I don’t know — that they are sharing stuff that is entirely legal with the appropriate clearances — and then there is an obsession on the process.

… it’s a backwards way that when you all report on stuff with sources that are leaking — illegally leaking classified information, that’s appropriate and fine.  No one questions that — the substance and material.  When two individuals, or however many are engaged in this process, have a discussion that is 100 percent legal and appropriate and cleared, suddenly the obsession becomes about the process and not the substance.

And I think that it is somewhat reckless and — how the conversation over classified information is discussed without — while sort of attempting to press a false narrative that exists.  So while it is completely appropriate to share classified information with individuals who are cleared, it is clearly not the case to do that when it is illegally leaked out.  And I think that’s sort of the irony of how this whole conversation has …. [Note: transcript ends here]”

Spicer never came close to answering the question that was asked, which was: ““have you learned any more information since we had this conversation yesterday about how he would have even gotten in and how he would have gotten cleared?” Instead, he launched an attack on the media’s treatment of leaks, the standard playbook for almost every question that relates to whether Trump and colleagues colluded with Russia to influence the last election.

And he got away with it! The closest he came to a substantive response is this exchange with another reporter: “So we’re taking what you’re saying as assurances that Chairman Nunes’s decision to call of [sic: s/b “off”] that hearing did not have anything to do with any pressure from with [sic] White House? Spicer’s answer: “No.”

Then there was this exchange:

“Does the President still believe that climate change is a hoax?

Spicer’s reply:

“I think you will hear more today about the climate and what he believes.  I think he understands — he does not believe that — as I mentioned at the outset, that there is a binary choice between job creation, economic growth, and caring about the environment.  And that’s what we should be focusing on.  I think, at the end of the day, where we should be focusing on is making sure that all Americans have clean water, clean air, and that we do what we can to preserve and protect our [transcript ends].”

Of all the questions asked at this briefing, that one, you would think, could be answered with a simple, direct “yes or no.” The equivocation suggests that the actions the President has taken to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency and other abrupt removals of restraints on air and water pollution show that the President of the United States sticks to his earlier claims that “climate change is a hoax.”

It’s also a fair conclusion that, despite the dissembling, the press corps never laid a glove on Spicer or Trump, despite multiple opportunities to challenge falsehoods, distortions and deflections. It’s perhaps too early for a final judgment but this experience suggests that Trump is winning the disinformation battle with the media. If so, we are in serious trouble.

If you are concerned about this, you should communicate with the principal media organizations on which you depend to find out and report the truth. Tell them they must not sit like lumps of clay when confronted with overt dissembling, avoidance of hard questions and outright false statements. It is difficult, but the members of the White House press corps must aggressively press for answers to their questions and challenge the evasions with which the March 28 event was replete.

Comcast – The Worst Company in the World?

I knew this day would come. With a well-known history of missed appointments and other inexplicable service disruptions, I should not have been surprised when, after calling Comcast to order the upgraded X-1 cable box with its “talk to it” remote, Comcast promptly terminated my cable service. What else would you expect? Service was, of course, restored when I called to report the outage. Later that day, or maybe the next (it’s all a blur now), my Internet connection was again terminated. This time the Comcast representative said it was a “glitch” in Comcast’s software but thank you so much for choosing Comcast as your cable company. As if I had a choice. A few days later there was another service interruption. No explanation offered this time.

Then came the coup de grace. A few days later, I stopped working on my iMac about 3:30 pm, leaving the computer to “sleep,” while I also took a nap. I returned at about 6:00 pm to find that my collection of 120 subject-matter folders that held old but important emails had vanished! The folders, and their contents, were replaced by a new folder entitled, and I’m not making this up: “lost-807fd53” (followed by a string of 23 additional letters and numbers – try to picture it). The catch was that this new folder was … EMPTY! Thousands of emails gone, disappeared. I checked the Xfinity/Comcast email website and the same empty “lost” folder appeared there as well.

You know where this is going.

I called my go-to, AppleCare, and was told this was a Comcast problem. I then called Comcast. I spoke with three people at ever-higher levels of technical sophistication in what can be loosely called the “Comcast support regime.” All three tech reps had the same response: we cannot find your lost emails; we cannot explain what happened to them; but have a nice day and thank you for choosing Comcast as your email provider and have a nice day, is there anything else we can “help” you with. After some back-and-forth, during which I confess to being less than patient and accepting, the third person in the chain reluctantly agreed that he would “advance the case” to the Fourth Level and someone would contact me within 72 hours … but don’t expect a happy outcome. Oh, and ‘no, you can’t talk directly to the Fourth Level now.”

By now you have predicted, correctly, that the 72-hour window came and went without a call from the Fourth Level. Or any other contact from Comcast. What is there to say? Comcast has a monopoly on cable service in Alexandria and my apartment building is apparently wired to connect only to Comcast. What can you reasonably expect from a monopoly? If there is good news in this … there is none.

Well, except for one thing, but it’s not about Comcast. In desperation, I called Apple again. Apple has never failed me in solving a computer issue that was within its orbit. After a bit of confusion about how Apple Mail application interacts with Comcast’s servers, I reached a “second level” of technical support and a very pleasant young man walked me through a series of steps to recover all of the lost folders, with the lost emails residing in them as before. This miracle was possible because I run a program called Time Machine that comes with the iMac and backs up everything on the computer to a separate hard drive. Apple reps know stuff and, in my experience, always find a solution.

So, despite Comcast’s total failure to perform its obligations, the story has a happy ending. The moral of the story is: if you are using Comcast and have your email and/or other files on an Apple computer, you can avoid a feeling of rejection, subordination and helplessness by destroying your own emails – just delete them all straightaway and never be subjected to Comcast’s ineptitude again. To be safe, deleted all your files. Then you have nothing to worry about.

OR, go on offense, by getting Time Machine running right away. And thank you for choosing ….

When You Rest on Your Laurels, You Become a Stationary Target

The defeat of the Republican-sponsored American Health Care Act (AHCA) was a great victory for the people.  Thanks go to the organizing leaders at, in alpha order: ACLU/PeoplePower.org), Grassroots Alexandria, Indivisible (and its many local arms), MoveOn.org, Women’s March, plus the many other national and local groups whose names I don’t even know and, of course, to the individuals who called, wrote, marched, protested, demonstrated and rallied against the atrocity of the AHCA. And thanks also to AARP, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Planned Parenthood, among others.

I have noted that some people feel that we have somehow “won the war” with this victory and that they can now either step back or at least “move on to something else.” This is an understandable response to what has happened. At the same time, we must not become complacent about the Trump administration. The AHCA could be brought back by the Republican majority at any time. So by all means celebrate, relish the feeling of a huge and, I must say it, improbable achievement. Then prepare to fight the enemy in our front.

But also post guards on the flanks and in the rear. Trump blames the loss of the ACHA on Democrats and, of course, he would. It is certain as the sunrise, however, that Trump never expected any Democrat to vote for the bill. Blaming Democrats is just another head-fake. Remember, as someone (not Thomas Jefferson) famously said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” This is particularly true now. Trump and Ryan are humiliated and angry and they have shown that they do not grasp what “the welfare of the people” really means.

Moreover, Trump has tweeted that the way forward is this: “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” That tweet has been “liked” over 91,000 times. As suggested by Deepak Gupta and others, what does this say about Trump’s constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed?” U.S. Constitution, Art. II, sec. 3. Trump appears to believe that the Take Care obligation is part of the “fake Constitution” and does not apply to him. Wrong again.

What comes next is not clear. It could be “tax reform” or something else. Or multiple things. We already know that the Trump administration, through executive orders and Cabinet appointments, has declared war on the environment. Many more craven acts of legislative and regulatory vandalism are coming. But the March for Science is also coming – on April 22 in Washington and elsewhere … and many other demonstrations of the peoples’ commitment to resisting the destructive agenda of the Trump administration. It is critically important to show Trump that the people do not accept his assault on the air they breathe and the water they drink, that the people do not accept his attempt to shift the burden of taxation toward the population sector already suffering economic hardship or worse and that the people will not accept his effort to turn the country into “fortress America” with border walls and distrust of everyone who does not fit his narrow concept of what it means to be an American.

The Resistance must remain constant, relentless and ubiquitous so the administration sees that there are no weak spots to be exploited. Resistance is the only course left to stop the right-wing idealogues from undermining American values. In this regard, finally, it is important to make clear to Democratic lawmakers at every level that supporting the Republican agenda in any respect is unacceptable.

We have seen what the Republican agenda is prepared to do to achieve its imaginary wonderland of the “free market” in all things: just consider that the leadership was prepared to strip from the Affordable Car Act replacement legislation most of the “essential benefits” in order to appease the Freedom Caucus and secure their votes. Fortunately for the country, enough of the extremist demands of the Freedom Caucus were rejected to stop them from supporting the legislation. While Trump’s oft-touted-but-never-demonstrated negotiating skills failed him in this instance, we have seen the price the leadership was willing to pay to achieve their ideological ends, regardless of the consequences to the people who need those “essential benefits” the most. We cannot afford to take chances with a group that is willing to drive the country off a cliff to prove a point.

What Is the Democratic Alternative to the American Health Care Act?

We are about an hour and a half from the House vote on the ludicrously named American Health Care Act, which brings to mind the famous phrase from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: “The horror! The horror!” In typical fashion, Not-My-President Trump is threatening recalcitrant Republicans in the House that he will “come after you” if they don’t support the AHCA. Changes are being made to make the legislation more palatable to extreme right-wing Congressmen in the so-called Freedom Caucus. It’s hard to tell what is going on because most of the action is behind closed doors, but it seems clear that major reductions in benefits for low-income people have been incorporated into the legislation to buy votes of the ultra-conservative far right wing of the Republican Party. Those Republicans coldly and calmly stand before media cameras and boast about removing health care benefits from the AHCA package.

Given the inhumane indifference with which the AHCA treats most health-challenged people and given that it includes a large tax break for the wealthiest Americans, there is nothing good to say about the legislation. Most Democrats have railed against it since its details were released after much secret negotiating among its Republican sponsors.

What has begun to stand out to me is that while Democrats have rightly and righteously opposed the AHCA, they, including former President Obama himself, have acknowledged that there are issues with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) that need to be addressed. Instead of producing an alternative to the AHCA that would make repairs where needed, however, the Democratic leadership has focused entirely on the multitude of negative features of the “repeal and replace” legislation.

This may be a political attempt to make the Republicans “own” the AHCA and its inevitably horrific consequences, but it strikes me, late in the game (I admit), that this is not the best strategy. Rather than simply counting on a handful of Republican legislators to block the legislation in the House or Senate, it would have been better, I think, to offer a realistic alternative to the current Obamacare.

Perhaps most interesting are the observations of Jennifer Rubin, described by the Washington Post as a person who “writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective. She covers a range of domestic and foreign policy issues and provides insight into the conservative movement and the Republican Party.” http://wapo.st/2nSfAyQ. Rubin said this:

“… the legislation is a dog’s breakfast. It’s a bill that does not repeal Obamacare and does not address the most acute issue, namely rising premiums. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) keeps promising that will be addressed in the third prong of legislation, but as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) points out that is never happening (since there are not eight Democratic votes). If the GOP passes this, it will be stuck with the worst of all worlds — a highly regulated insurance market with skimpier tax credits than were available under Obamacare. That, plus the roll back on Medicaid expansion, explains why so many conservatives and moderates oppose it.

The bill was so unworkable Ryan had to come up with a last minute “manager’s amendment” to, for example, try to improve support for rural, older voters who are badly hurt. But there is no legislative language laying that out. Those who vote for this literally won’t know what is in the bill. In short, it’s bad legislation that will hurt people, many of whom voted for President Trump. If it passes, the problems with the bill and the hard luck cases will be on the heads of Republicans.

As for the politics, it has already split the party and pitted Republicans against one another. It gets a pitiful level of support. Voters, as opposed to politicians and political insiders, rank health care relatively low on their priority list. Voters really are not clamoring for this. Rather than get mired down in an endless negotiation back and forth with the Senate and be responsible for a lousy outcome, Republicans would be wise to move on to jobs, just as the president said he wanted to do.”

Further:

“Obamacare’s faults don’t make the case for this particular bill. Significant numbers of Freedom Caucus members are saying the bill does not do what it is supposed to. Perhaps they have internalized the real lesson of Obamacare: Don’t pass a bad bill, take responsibility for people’s health care and hope it gets fixed later. Right now, Sen. Cruz won’t vote for the bill. And he’s right. It should die in the House.”

http://wapo.st/2nnIh93.

It is not the case that some of the fixes to Obamacare have not been identified. For example, Nalini Pande, Sappho Health Strategies, LLC’s Managing Director, who has significant health care policy credentials and experience, has identified three “repairs” worth consideration:

“(1) Increasing subsidies for the poor so that the Exchange plans are more affordable; (2) Encouraging state insurance commissioners to conduct stronger rate reviews/rate regulation to prevent unreasonably high rate increases … and … to ensure that for-profit insurers are not increasing rates at a dramatically high rate to ensure more profits for shareholders at the expense of their customers – this goes for employer plans, not just plans on the Exchange under ACA; (3) stronger evaluations on plan performance, premium increases and surplus and reserves, especially for-profit insurers/health plans.”

As I stated in my previous post, I claim no expertise in health care or insurance policy, but Pande’s prescriptions make sense. There are likely many others. Hopefully for the country, the Democratic strategy will work out in the end and the AHCA will be defeated. If not, the failure to offer an effective alternative may be seen as a very serious error.

Trumpcare – National Nightmare in the Making

I do not pretend to be an expert in the art/science of health care programs. I have been fortunate enough to not have to deal with the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) personally and remain somewhat unschooled in all of its details.

But I know this much. The Republican “repeal and replace” plan, as thus far revealed, has been evaluated by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) as depriving 14 million people of health insurance in Year One, 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026, compared to the number insured under the ACA. https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52486.

If you’ve been following the news, you now know that the Republican managers of this fiasco do not have the votes in the House of Representatives, assertedly the legislators “closest to the people,” to pass the American Health Care Act (“AHCA”) being promoted by Speaker Paul Ryan. There are two main sources of opposition, one a group of extreme-right ultra-conservatives who contend that the AHCA leaves too much of the ACA in place and demand more cutting of benefits. The other group is labeled “moderate Republicans,” a term that I don’t pretend to understand but they apparently think the AHCA goes too far.

Faced with apparent deadlock between those groups, the AHCA bill managers are trying, with the help of Not-My-President Trump, to negotiate with the ultra-conservatives. If such an arrangement is struck without the ultras completely caving in, which is unlikely, this approach necessarily means that the legislation will be worse than the AHCA in its present form and thus likely to deprive even more Americans of health insurance.

Note, however, that we will not know for sure by the time the bill passes. The Republicans managers are in such a rush to get this gruel passed and on to the Senate that, if some deal is struck, they may vote as early as tomorrow or Monday. This in turn means it is assured that CBO evaluation of the amended legislation will not be available to the House when it votes on what then would presumably be a “done deal” and passed.

Of course, there is the Senate and another procedural morass and fight over the governing procedures, but everyone should be clear that if the present course continues, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on one of the most consequential pieces of legislation affecting the welfare of tens of millions without the benefit of the one neutral source of cost-benefit evaluation.

If this analysis is correct, there are no words to adequately describe the outrage being perpetrated against the American people by their elected representatives. Everyone who votes for this legislation should be turned out of office in 2018.

For Whom Is the Chair of House Intelligence Committee Working?

In a report published this afternoon in USAToday, http://usat.ly/2nojfXw, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee was attributed as saying that “communications involving members of President Trump’s transition group were “incidentally collected” by U.S. intelligence officials following the November election.”

According to the report, updated from its first publication,

“Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., did not identify other transition members swept up in the surveillance, adding that he has viewed “dozens” of such intelligence reports that appeared “legal” but perhaps “inappropriate.” “What I’ve read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team, because some of it appears to be inappropriate,” Nunes told reporters at the White House after briefing the president on the findings. [Note that the original USAToday story included this line, “”I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.”] [Note also that Sean Spicer has been reported saying that Nunes spoke to the press before informing Trump]

The chairman said the intelligence reports were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the collection was related to broader intelligence gathering activities.

….

Nunes also has rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. And he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.” [emphasis added]

“Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value—were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday. Nevertheless, Trump, while meeting Wednesday with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters that he felt “somewhat” vindicated by Nunes’ statements.

” I must tell, you I somewhat do,” the president said. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do.” Before briefing the president, Nunes said he also notified House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., of the information. Nunes suggested that the information came from one or more whistleblowers. “It came through the proper channels and the proper clearances,” Nunes said. “This was information that was brought to me that I thought the president needed to see.”  He said the National Security Agency has been cooperative, but the FBI so far has not.

Nunes said the surveillance itself appeared to be legal — presumably through a warrant from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — but that the concern was what intelligence agencies did with that information. He would not rule out that senior Obama administration officials received the intelligence or that they were involved in the “unmasking” of the citizens identified in the reports. [Note that he can’t rule Obama’s officials “in” either] But he also re-stated his belief that Obama did not order the wiretapping of Trump Tower, as Trump himself has suggested in a series of March 4 tweets and subsequent public remarks.

“From what I’ve read, there seems to be some level of surveillance action — perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right,” he said. Nunes said nothing he shared with the president was within the scope of the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump associates. “The reports I was able to see did not have anything to do with the Russia investigation,” the congressman said. “The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there, and I have a duty to tell him that.”

The source of that duty is not clear. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee does not report to the President. I would think that in the midst of an on-going FBI investigation involving the President’s staff, present and former, and possibly the President himself (the investigation is in early stages), the chair would not go running to the President with every piece of information he discovers that he thinks helps exonerate the President or gives more ammunition for the thoroughly discredited claims that the former President Obama ordered electronic surveillance of Trump Tower. Moreover, Nunes concedes that the surveillance he claims to have discovered was legal. The basis for his suggestion that it was not “right” is not clear.

The first USAToday report also stated that “White House spokesman Sean Spicer characterized the Nunes’ information as “startling,” saying that it required additional investigation.” Clearly, Nunes’s disclosures have had the intended effect of bolstering the President’s team in promoting the false narrative that Trump Tower was surveilled.

This hasty action by the chair of the Intelligence Committee speaks volumes about the objectivity of the Republican-managed Committee’s involvement in the FBI investigation and is further compelling, indeed overwhelming, evidence for the need to appoint an independent prosecutor to oversee the investigation of the Trump-Russia connection.

The USAToday report goes on to quote Nunes thus: “I think the president is concerned and he’d like to see these reports.” And then this:

“The chairman said the reports and incidental collection of names were not part of a criminal investigation or the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. Rather, he said the activities were elated [sic] to intelligence gathering.”

I am not an expert in these matters but I’m having a hard time distinguishing between these disclosures by the chair and what the Trump administration, and the chair himself, have repeatedly decried as “leaks.” Apparently, the only bad leak is one that doesn’t help the false presidential narrative. Furthermore, if the documents reviewed by the chair were indeed related to “intelligence gathering,” why did he feel it was appropriate for him to rush to the White House with the information?

Despite all this hoopla, the report states that “Nunes also rejected the president’s claims that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. But he said “none” of the newly disclosed surveillance was related to “any investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.”  By disclosing this “unrelated information,” Nunes appears to have fed the President the talking points he needs to continue his discredited (by both the FBI and NSA) claim of wiretapping. Chair Nunes has, it seems to me, removed the last shred of doubt about his inability and/or unwillingness to lead a proper investigation into the President and his minions. He is too beholden to the President and way too anxious to exonerate him. What is required here is an independent leader of a serious investigation. Failing that, any ultimate exoneration by the Republican led House Intelligence Committee will be suspect.

A Patch of Common Ground – Taking Chance

We are living in highly polarized times that are remindful of the conflicts of the 1960s over the war in Vietnam and the role of nuclear weapons in America’s foreign policy. I have, however, had occasion to reflect recently on one area in which everyone should be able to have a common vision of what is right and a sense of both pride and sorrow. The inspiration for these thoughts was seeing the movie, Taking Chance, starring Kevin Bacon. This movie was “made for television” and since I don’t watch much TV, it got by me in 2009 without even being noticed, despite Bacon having won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television.

It’s a straight-ahead story, though unusual, I suspect, for a TV movie in that there is relatively little dialogue. Part of the magic is that the film relies on visual imagery rather than a lot of dialogue. The story line is that Gulf War-decorated Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl volunteered to escort to the family in Wyoming the remains of 19-year old PFC Chance Phelps, who was killed, with severe wounds, in combat in Iraq. In the film, based on a true story, Strobl has been deeply conflicted by his decision to remain with his family and perform desk duties rather than return to combat in Iraq when others did. His volunteering as escort for Phelps is motivated by a need for some kind of redemption for that decision. He receives detailed instructions on exactly how the personal effects and the casket are to be treated at every step of the long journey home to a family divided by divorce and overwhelmed with grief.

The story spends some time on the intimate, painful work to prepare the body for burial in full dress uniform in every immaculate detail. The caring and respect of the people doing this work is palpable. I had never before considered this aspect of the return of dead soldiers to their homeland and was deeply moved by it. It is presented with great dignity.

On the journey, Lt. Col. Strobl renders honors at every movement of the casket, often in the presence of overwhelmed airline personnel who have witnessed this many times. Strobl stands at attention and salutes the casket as it slowly moves from the cargo hold of the plane carrying the body. These scenes and others throughout the film will, I predict, break your heart.

I will provide no other spoilers – just a warning to have tissues handy. The film will change you, with insights into an aspect of war that everyone should absorb, as they are sitting in the comfort and safety of their homes. I came away with a profoundly deeper sense of respect for the military men and women who defend our country and our way of life every day. See for yourself. Please.