Monday, October 14, 2019

Turning Syria over to Russia ..Trump's long standing desire

Trump's desire to leave Syria to the Russians date to his campaign and is a thread throughout his presidency.  The Kurds, our point of the speer against ISIS, our ally, he has now abandoned and they will be seeking protection from the Turkish invasion to which Trump gave a greenlight.  Here is a column that I posted in December 2016 referring to his position in September 2016 when he was a candidate.
The heartbreak of the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo has created a great deal of finger pointing. Many wish Pres. Obama had not decided to have taken a hands off position. . However, the puzzle is what Donald Trump would have done differently and what he will decide to do when he takes office. He indicated in the campaign he would have done even less, leaving the country's civil war to Russia and Assad. Those two were the perpetrators and deserve universal condemnation. The irony may be that by the time he takes office, facts on the ground will have already made any decision by him moot. The winners, Russia and Assad, will have become the reality. Barack Obama, justly or unjustly, will have a blot on his legacy for being the enabler by his decision to ignore the crossing of the red line he himself painted several years ago.

To see this in a larger context going forward, what is going to be Don Trump's relationship with Russia? Will he also abandon the Ukraine, the Baltic states to Russian stealth takeover? Will he lead NATO into an eclipse by not evoking military and political protection of the Baltics who are members of NATO? Will he recognize Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine and the de facto annexation of the Crimea? Will he see Russia as a threat to the US, in spite of the US intelligence agencies verifying their interference in our elections, or Vladimir Putin as a friend and mentor to him personally?

To take clues of where he had been in the campaign as a way to predict the future, it is possible that he will support Russia's foreign policy, and would have supported it in Syria, too.

This is a partial reposting of a blog I authored September 8 and it was written even before Trump tapped the President of Exxon who had received a medal of friendship from Vladimir Putin to be our new Secretary of State.

"Donald Trump in the recent "Commander in Chief" forum called Vladimir Putin a better leader than President Obama.  That bromance between Trump and Putin is more than just a matter of flattery and egos.  It has real repercussions for future conduct of foreign policy if Trump is elected. Trump supports foreign policies that dovetail neatly with Russia's,, excusing the Russian grab of the Crimea, going along with the stealth invasion of Eastern Ukraine, calling NATO obsolete as a military defense alliance, and fuzzy about whether Russia's ally Assad in Syria must go. None of those policies are in America's or our allies' interests."

In fact, if Pres. Obama's leadership in the region is regarded by his critics as "weak", Donald Trump's leaving the field to Russia in areas of conflict in Europe, would be even weaker, and hardly is a way to make "America Great again" as a world leader. Instead, it helps make Russia great again.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Trump's destruction of the balance of power: his chosen road to elected dictatorship

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
 James Madison, Federalist Papers

Yawn if you will.  Balance of powers and rule of law are the foundations of our Constitution and no doubt, if you ever studied it in elementary or high school, you zoned it out.  This is hardly the stuff that stirs the soul, except for those of us inspired by civics to become a political science major.  I plead guilty to the latter.  However, the fundamental balance of powers is under attack by the very same political party that once dedicated itself to limited government. Instead, they are the ones who now bow down to their feared leader, Donald Trump who promises to primary anyone who steps out his line.

 A  short civics and history lesson: The writers of our Constitution and the thinkers shaping that document and form of government, such as Madison, feared more than anything being ruled by another divine right king. For that the revolution was fought and for that the Consitution was constructed to keep a dictator, a king, or tyrant from gaining power.

Our founders were all students of classical history. The architecture and government they constructed reflect an idealized Roman republic to this day.  With kudos to a large number of recent articles and my son, a dedicated student of Greek and Roman history, I am reminded of the history our founders saw, too. They had seen what happened 2000 years ago when Tiberius Gracchus, the Trump of his time, became Rome's first strong man, deriving his power from Populares,  the populist movement he led. The movement was the result of a great concentration of wealth and an underclass of those who had struggled as they returned from wars to find themselves without land and a way to make a living.  He left the counter check of the Senate in ruins by creating factions that pitted interests of citizens against elites, resulting in a hundred years of turmoil and the eventual death of the Roman republic. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and engineered Senate rules changes to become the first dictator for life.  Augustus, Caeser's adopted nephew,  became the first Roman emperor.

How to avoid such a similar failure of democracy was the challenge the writers of the Constitution faced. It was their invention to come up with the concept of balance of powers, of three branches of government, each with a check on the other.   The legislative branch checked themselves with two houses, one with short terms reflecting popular sentiments of the time, House, and the more elite longer-term Senate.

Congress had the purse strings and the right of oversight, impeachment, and approval of judicial appointees. The executive was to carry out the laws they passed and to execute their wishes faithfully. Formed a co-equal branch, a judiciary that had the power to check either branch, making sure they stayed within the framework of the Constitution. The friction between the three branches has been the story of our search "for a more perfect union".  The goal was to limit the powers of the federal government and once upon a time the GOP was the guardian of that goal, while Democrats urged greater government participation in our economy and personal lives.  The conflicts between the two caused ebb and flow of power between the branches, never far outside our founders' concept. However, now the tilt to the executive branch has become extreme as the Trump administration has decided to stonewall and bully Congress into a belly up surrender of their powers to check him.  His GOP  loyalists and legislative predecessors have striven to stack the federal judicial system with their ideological fellow travelors.  One of the litmus tests the GOP applied to favor an appointment was whether they believed in a unified executive, a belief that the executive branch should reign supreme using powers not specifically granted them in the Constitution.  This "unified executive " philosophy is being carried to the extreme, to attempt to legislate by executive orders and rulemaking and to refuse to comply with the intent of laws passed before them on environment and energy policies and health care. Above all the White House has been seeking to sabotage the ability of the legislative branch to provide oversight of excesses of executive action.  The matter has now come to a head with the impeachment inquiry. The  Trump administration has announced they will not comply with any subpoenas issued by the House committees. Even before then the Trump administration had announced they would not respond to any subpoenas for tax and financial records and tried to transfer defense funds to build the wall or to claim the president and their relatives and he could not be prosecuted or investigated while they were in office. The lower courts ruled against all of those court battles last week, terming White House assertion the chief executive and family could not even be investigated, repugnant. We will see where these court cases go on appeal. The Trump administration was attempting to throw the matter into the courts, including the Supreme court they now control with their two recently confirmed appointees.  Their excuse to defy impeachment inquiry subpoenas?   Why, it's about politics and the Democrats run the committees in the House. So should we suppose they would only comply if the GOP was again the majority in the House to protect their power grab?  Yes, it is about politics and the 2018 elections that put Democrats in the House majority. Elections have consequences.  But it is more than about politics.  It is also about the balance of powers that Trump is trying to destroy on his way to realize his aspiration and promise to be a "really strong leader", to become an elected autocrat like his peer group of Putin and Erdogan.   All rose via the ballot box, including Hitler, Putin, Erdogan,  and empowered by a citizenry who let them do it.  Heed James Madison's warning. Even more chilling is this. When exiting the Constitutional Convention,  Benjamin Franklin was asked by citizens what sort of government the delegates had created. his answer was: "A republic if you can keep it."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Sen. Cory Gardner is no profile in courage

Here is your Colorado Senator Cory Gardner  (R) at work. Gardner is no profile in courage. When a Channel 9 KUSA reporter asked Cory Gardner, ' would  (it) be appropriate for a president to ask a foreign government to investigate an opponent, Gardner did not give a "yes" or "no" answer. 
'The Senate Intelligence Committee is starting an investigation, a bi-partisan investigation. Unfortunately, though, what we've seen is a very political process take over,' he said."
When asked a  question of a matter of principle with a yes or no answer, Gardner responded with an answer that implied that the answer depended upon whether the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed or not with impeachment charges that asking foreign governments to find dirt on a political opponent.  He added a swipe that it is a partisan matter. So much for standing on principle. So what's wrong with the President soliciting help from a foreign government to help him get elected? The easiest answers: it is illegal and it endangers US political independence from foreign control of our own governance, and it is seeking collusion.
While the reporter's question was simple,  to answer yes would have put Gardner in hot water with a President who threatens to primary any GOP member of Congress disloyal to him. To answer no would put him in the category of a pure Trump loyalist in a state that has turned blue and bluer.  He is up for re-election in 2020 and his opponent will be very moderate former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.
 The correct answer to the Channel 9 reporter should have been " No".  Why? 
1. It's a crime, Mr. President and Senator Gardner
Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said after President Trump publicly stated he would accept foreign intelligence on opponents and saw no problem with that.."Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election." 
FYI: impeachment does not require proof a crime was committed to be an article of impeachment.  The definition of high crimes and misdemeanors is left up to the impeachers to define.

2. If the foreign country agrees and produces something that would help a candidate get elected, that candidate finds himself obligated to them in the future even though the foreign country, like Russia, has their own agenda that is not ours and in fact may harm national security.  The Declaration of Independence was just about that: freedom from a foreign power, the British.  Foreign interference was one of the basic fears of the writers of our Constitution, too. The early and later Federalist papers were consumed with the fear that England would try to retake their former colonies. During the Articles of Confederation period before the Constitutional Convention, they noted many attempts by foreign governments to bribe leaders in the former colonies so they laced the Constitution with provisions like the emoluments clause against bribery  and when they could not crack the Constitution and loyalty to the new republic, it took it a step farther invading in the war of 1812.

3. A foreign power getting dirt on a US candidate's opponent is both a thing of value and an element of collusion.  Trump crowed loudly Special Counsel Robert  Mueller's report exonerated him of collusion. He knew collusion was impeachable. However, now Trump himself actively demanded a foreign government to collude. As attorney Ari Melber on MSNBC commented in soliciting dirt on an election opponent from a foreign government, as Trump has done,  is "going from no collusion to pro collusion".As Special Counsel Mueller noted, “[a] foreign entity that engaged in such research and provided resulting information to a campaign could exert a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate, than a gift of money or tangible things of value.” 

 This question stands alone in importance even if there was no quid pro quo of conditioning military aid to Ukraine if their president did not do Trump the favor of re-opening an investigation into Joe Biden and his son for business dealings in Ukraine and in shifting the 2016 foreign interference in the 2016 election from Russia to Ukraine.  Both of these "asks" are based on conspiracy theories with plenty of evidence to debunk them, but promoted by Trump media. Just soliciting, accepting or receiving something of value from a foreign government in an election campaign is against the law.
The president has been on media openly welcoming, from "Russia are you listening? Find Hillary's missing emails",  the July 25 telephone call, Oct. 3, urges China to dig up on the Bidens. (The Chinese declined). The Mueller report spent pains to find no collusion with Russia in 2016; now soliciting the collusion is in the open or as Ari Melber on MSNBC  put it succinctly:  "Trump has gone from no collusion to pro collusion". On June 13, 2019, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump was asked if he considered accepting "oppo research" from a foreign country broke election laws, he replied: "It's not an interference, they have information -- I think I'd take it," Trump said. "If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI -- if I thought there was something wrong. ..... congressman, they all do it, they always have, and that's the way it is. It's called oppo research." It was during the time of the Stephanopoulos interview that Trump's "personal lawyer" was in the midst of trying to convince the newly elected President of Ukraine to re-open the Biden investigation and play ball. It was in vain until a month later that Donald Trump froze military aid to Ukraine to help that country to  beat back a Russian territorial hot war grab followed by the infamous July 25 telephone conversation in which Ukraine's president said he was ready to buy the aid Trump had frozen Trump said he had a favor to ask "though"  and stated the asks: investigate  Bidens' corruption  and for Ukraine to  take the blame for election interference in 2016 .


Tweetable quote: By directly requesting or suggesting that President Zelensky use Ukraine’s resources to help his reelection efforts, Trump violated campaign finance law.
(More technically, Trump asked Ukraine to make an “expenditure” by spending resources for the purpose of influencing the 2020 election. An “expenditure” that is coordinated with a candidate is a campaign contribution; “coordinated” means made at the “request or suggestion” of a candidate. So Trump requesting that Ukraine make an expenditure means that he solicited a contribution.)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Is Trump above the law? Court finds his claims REPUGNANT the New Yorker magazine, October 7, 2019, by line John Cassidy
Trump and his attorneys attempted to argue that the President and his relatives were not subject to prosecution for private business dealings. Furthermore, his attorneys argued that "under the U.S. Constitution, a sitting President can’t be subjected to any criminal investigation except as part of an impeachment inquiry. The team’s argument was not merely that Trump can’t be hauled into court and prosecuted—a claim that now has the imprimatur of the U.S. Department of Justice—but that a President can’t be subjected to any type of “criminal process,” because it would “distract him from his constitutional duties.” What Trump's attorneys attempted to do was to say Trump could not be prosecuted nor could he be even investigated for any criminal wrongdoing.  In short, he was above the law and did not have to turn over his tax returns. 

New Yorker
"In dismissing a request from Trump’s lawyers for a preliminary injunction to prevent Cyrus Vance, the District Attorney for Manhattan, from getting hold of the tax returns, Marrero rejected their legal arguments in a long and, at times, impassioned ruling. “Bared to its core, the proposition the President advances reduces to the very notion that the Founders rejected at the inception of the Republic and that the Supreme Court has since unequivocally repudiated: that a constitutional domain exists in this country in which not only the President but, derivatively, relatives and persons and business entities associated with him in potentially unlawful private activities, are in fact above the law,” Marrero stated. “Because this Court finds aspects of such a doctrine repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values, and for the reasons further stated below, it ABSTAINS from adjudicating this dispute and DISMISSES the President’s suit.”

When Trump was just a businessman, he was sued frequently and often and either lost money or won the suit and continued doing what he was doing.  Transactions mean that: who wins the most is a good deal.

This is also why Trump thinks he can get away with doing anything he wants and his transactional approach to everything. These were civil suits, the cost of doing business in his unethical modus operandi., with the penalty expressed in dollars. He has managed to skirt the criminal law. However, what he does not understand is that what may be unethical in NYC may be a crime under the constitution and the criminal code. He has no sense of what is a crime or for that matter right from is just what he can get away with that works to his personal advantage.