Monday, June 11, 2018

A potential hammer against press freedom

So what will they use this data base for? Or will this become another Nixon enemies list. This is not an idle fear and the list can be used to protect us and it stands on the ready should some wannabe autocrat want to use it for his benefit. This calls for Congressional oversight, but that is a laugh given the GOP sucking up to Trump at every opportunity. It certainly will not be used to protect us from  Russian interference in elections since Trump sucks up to the Russians at all times. The U.S. ranks 43 of 180 countries based on press freedom, survey conducted by the non profit Reporters Without Borders.“ A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people,’ ...has attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routinely uses the term ‘fake news’in retaliation for critical reporting, and has called for revoking certain media outlets’ broadcasting licenses.”

Homeland Security is seeking a contractor to compile a list of both professional journalists and "top media influencers," which would likely include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor the "sentiment" they're putting out in public.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Why Spygate became Liegate

This is  revision of an earlier posting on the subject:

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, May 30, 2018

Update: June 8, 2018:
agrees: no spies...per Paul Ryan.

Last week Donald Trump lit a firecracker in the media, claiming the FBI had planted a spy in his campaign during the 2016 campaign and called it "Spygate, a scandal worse than Watergate". Spygate became Trump's lie- gate, Democrats charged, with good reason.
The challenge was for the Trumpsters  to prove there was a spy embedded in the campaign..just as they were challenged to prove that Trump Tower was wired by the FBI (still waiting) for political reasons. For that reason the White House called a meeting of its most devoted Congressional partisans, Rep. Devin Nunes and  Rep. Trey  Gowdy, to meet with the FBI and Department of Justice to get the evidence they thought would  justify Pres. Trump's inflammatory claims and to unmask the informant. After a great deal of feathers flying, eventually an established select group, "the gang of eight" security cleared bi-partisan Congressional  members, were invited for a second sit-down.
Spygate has turned out to be a farce after the bi-partisan group listened to the details of the FBI' s use of an informant, an American professor in England, to have conversations  in England with  Americans  about whom they already had evidence of connections to both  Russians and the Trump campaign during 2016. There was no FBI embed in the Trump campaign headquarters or staff. The purpose of the informant's use was part of the then ongoing investigation into the Russians' activities. The use of clandestine informants is a fundamental, common practice of our intelligence services and in the case part of an authorized investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. 
The President tied this accusation about a spy in his midst  to his rhetoric that it was  being undertaken by "a criminal deep state"  and  his charges were quickly embraced and promoted  by his loyal  one-sided media brigades.  However, even those he appointed in the position to know, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and recently director of the CIA, said there is no such thing  as deep state in the State Department or the CIA  in testimony before Congress last week.  
That such a charge can be easily believed  by the public without any evidence is not surprising.  A large bipartisan majority feels that national policy is being manipulated or directed by a “Deep State” of unelected government officials, a recent Monmouth poll concluded. There is always been a wariness of the power of the federal government among citizens  in this country, as that same poll found.  
 But now we have reached the unhealthy stage of paranoia with many  ready to believe  the slightest bit of  unproved evidence  to confirm our worst fears or support Donald Trump.  This is  thanks to Donald Trump's demagogic  playing on these fears to protect himself when he is the subject  of a criminal investigation.  He had demanded  unmasking of the  informant and the disclosure of evidence uncovered in Mueller’s investigation of the investigators of him, the investigation’s subject. This is the mother of all mothers of  conflict of interests, because it could be used  to  get his supporters' stories in sync  in testimony  before a grand jury, or to prepare his defense. These demands  took place in the midst of an ongoing investigation  that flies in the face of every norm and rule in criminal cases. Such "disclosure" takes place after an indictment, not before.   As a sop to  put off Trump’s threats of firing Mueller and his boss,  Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, critics charge Rosenstein agreed to the White House demands for the  meeting and to order an inspector general’s investigation of whether  Department of Justice improperly surveilled the Trump campaign in 2016 for political reasons..

The greatest enemy of democracy, ignorance

We have become a nation of slogans, but not of knowledge. Most Americans believe there is a "deep state" calling the shots in Washington, per recent poll. However, even one cabinet member  Donald Trump  appointed in the position to know, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and former CIA director, said there is not such thing. He believes the rank and file of government workers do try to conform to the policies of the elected.  Why do so many believe such slogans so easily? Much is because of the ignorance of many. Most Americans cannot name the three branches of government or the contents of the Bill of Rights protecting their freedoms from a tyrant.  Checks and balances have no meaning. How can they be alarmed democracy is under attack by Trump, a wannabe autocrat? They may not realize that most of government's "deep state' are civil servants who were hired on merit and cannot be fired for lack of party loyalty. They are not term limited, unlike the President. Most Americans do not even know the Mueller probe has gotten indictments, pleas, and convictions related to Russian interference in the 2016 elections and believe it is indeed a politically motivated witch hunt.

Cries from historians and political scientists that Donald Trump is trampling the framework of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and civil rights fall on deaf ears because most Americans have had a very poor education about these matters.  If they do not know the basics of our form of government and why it was established to protect them from what, no wonder those warnings have no meaning to them.  The Annenberg Foundation survey in 2017 found that
  • More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment;
  • Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government.
“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.”

Our founders knew way before the advent of TV, radio and the internet that the public was prone to be uninformed and that public opinion was a very fickle thing. They believed that ignorance was a threat to a democracy.  They made this a republic, not a direct democracy, with elected representatives who did have the charge to be informed and educated. We do not have a government run by polls of popular opinions but by those we elect, some every two years (House of Representatives which is sensitive to more recent voter opinions), one third of the senate up for re-election every two years with 6 year terms, and a president elected every 4 years based upon an electoral college voted geared to favor smaller states.  The two term limit for president came after World War II..
Trump knows a great slogan when he makes up one. His media echo chamber magnifies it. He is the master demagogue at work. , Mike Pompeo, must not have gotten his daily talking tweet and said  there was no such thing at the CIA or State Department The sad thing is that so many Americans have fallen for this line. We have met the enemy of democracy and it is ignorance. That ignorance is. fertile ground ready to absorb the slogans. 

Once upon a time in our history government employees were appointed; it was the spoils system and was a corrupt as could be and they were not appointed because of credentials or ability. We have had reform and the overwhelming members of the employees belong to the civil service and are not political appointees. Those who are appointees and confirmed by the Senate direct and set policy and priorities for the body of civil servants they supervise, but they still swear to uphold and defend the Constitution not the rule of the person in the White House. This applies to the FBI, the intelligence agencies that Trump claims are "criminal". That they are sworn to defend the Constitution and not the president is a critical element that keeps us from being an autocracy or ruled by a tyrant. This paranoid fantasy Trump wants the public to swallow is a way for any negative findings of the Mueller investigation will not be believed..

75% of Republicans believe his slogan that the Mueller probe is a witch hunt, and 53% of all voters think the probe is politically motivated. 5. Nonetheless, two thirds of Americans want the probe to continue. .Witches found to date by Mueller: indicted or guilty pleas, 19 people, 3 companies .59% do not know this, per a recent poll.

Media is partly to blame. 
This is what happens when either Americans do not pay attention to the news or they get all of their news from one TV station that only reports good news about Donald Trump or spins his spins about bad news. There is a whole world out there over half the country is missing...thanks to our partisan media divide. That other half dwells heavily on being the critical opposition, and only back handedly praise Trump  when he does succeed. In making constitutional  based arguments, middle and independent media is assuming a level of voter sophistication that does not exist.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Abuse of power: another article of impeachment?

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, June 13-14, 2018

A new term is creeping into the impeachment vocabulary thanks to recent media focus.  It is abuse of power , the  second article of impeachment against Nixon in the Watergate scandal. Reminders of this are  good reasons to  take a  deeper dive into where we stand today on impeachment and what articles of impeachment could be brought  if Donald Trump were to be the subject.
 First, impeachment of Trump is unlikely but possible. What is different from Watergate  is that Democrats held the majority In both House and Senate and  controlled the House impeachment process when GOP Nixon was president.  Today, President Trump’s party is the majority in both House and Senate. Even then, it would take a vote of 2/3 of the Senate to convict even if  the  House of Representatives  turns blue in 2018 and begins the impeachment process.  Chances are slim  that Donald Trump would be impeached while the Senate is likely to be still  too closely divided to convict. The House or Senate  could gain a Democratic majority in 2018, and do damage to the GOP/Trump in 2020 by holding hearings, though.   A  damning report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller or Trump’s firing of the investigators investigating him  might even  give a GOP Congress  enough of  a backbone to proceed. So far Trump has been told by Mueller  he is a subject, but not the target of his criminal  investigations, yet. Impeachment articles are as the House defines them.  Much could  fall under the Constitution’s   high crimes and misdemeanors clause.
 Nixon resigned  before impeachment.  We still have the articles of impeachment to compare and contrast.  The  first article of impeachment against Nixon was obstruction of justice. White House tapes showed he lied about his part in the coverup.  In Trump’s case , Mueller must show  Donald Trump’s criminal intent was to obstruct the Russian investigation when he fired  FBI Director James Comey. Impeachment articles do not need  a prosecution’s criminal findings, though.  In December Trump wanted to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the chief investigator investigating him, and Mueller’s boss, Rod Rosenstein, before they have made their final report. He claims often they are on a witch hunt. He has  backed off when GOP senators said that would be obvious evidence of  intent to obstruct  justice. Some witches have been found already in Trumps immediate circle and some are  Russians. Many  are under Mueller’s gun, some  already charged, indicted,  pleaded, out on bond,  or in jail
 Other possible impeachment articles authorized  in the Constitution are bribery and   treason, neither in Nixon’s articles. Treason could  be  more politely defined  as (collusion)  conspiring with a foreign government (Russia)  to help his  election and their national interests, a major focus of the Mueller investigation.  Connections between the Trump business organization and Trump himself benefiting from recent real estate loan deals with China coinciding with lifting sanctions on a Chinese telecom are raising eyebrows, not to mention violation of Constitutional emoluments clauses.
  In the Nixon case the abuse of power charge was based on his ordering  the IRS  to go after those on his enemies list, including the LA Times and their owners.  Trump’s repeated  demands  of  the semi autonomous  postmaster  to increase postal rates on Amazon, is suspected abuse  because its owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post, Trump’ chief media critic. Trump  has tried to argue Amazon pays   too low  postal rates which causes USPS deficits, but obvious evidence is  that deficit is caused by pension funding. Trump’s role in the denial of the Time Warner ATT merger that would have helped CNN is once again under scrutiny.  To be subject to impeachment and  prosecution,  the threat does not need to be carried out. Update June 12, 2018  Courts OK Time Warner ATT merger:
 To write this blog, I drew on so many source and documents, and my own research for prior posts on the impeachment procedure,  there are too many to list. However, I am particularly indebted for MSNBC’s  Rachel Maddow’s calling thoroughly documented  attention to the history of the Nixon impeachment’s article 2 in a recent broadcast and the implication of Trump’s demand on the US Postal Service

BBC reports Cohen took Ukraine bribe money to arrange meeting with Trump
Articles of impeachment against Nixon regarding abuse of power: . repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice in the conduct of lawful inquiries, of contravening the law of governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposes of these agencies. ...”
As I noted in a prior Facebook posting that this threat against Amazon shipping rates  is really  stupid  on Trump’s part. Amazon can switch to Fed Ex and UPS with which they already have contracts avoiding the Post Office and this will spur Amazon’s stated plans to short cut all of these services by moving up the time line in establishing their own delivery service, already in the works. The only people punished by this will be us consumers and million customers of Amazon who will pay higher shipping rates or they will be absorbed by Amazon until their own service is on line or they use UPS and Fed Ex instead.  The financial loss will be USPS’.
  Full disclosure: I am the owner of a small cosmetic company which is an Amazon seller and I am a customer, too.  I live  an hour and a half way from major retailers so I depend on ecommerce.  Even when my own web ecommerce site sells the same items at a lower price also  including shipping, customers prefer to order the same ones offered  on Amazon because they trust their guarantees and policies made to Prime customers and prefer  the user friendliness  of their technology.  I imagine  Donald Trump is neither an Amazon  seller nor a customer so he has no clue other than  thinking this is a way to punish a media outlet owner by trying to damage his  other business’ investors’ stock prices. This action if implemented  is likely to end up in civil court anyway over  contract matters.