Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Trump: becoming Ukraine

Trump: becoming Ukraine
Corrupt is as corrupt does. So now that Trump got acquitted and now he thinks he can do anything he wants, and get away with it, he is mimicking the behavior of those he called corrupt,. We now are becoming Ukraine; doing exactly the same thing for which Ukraine was called out for being corrupt. In addition to this"favor" to a friend of Trump, by helping out Stone to get less jail time, he has also opened the door for his loyal AG Bill Barr to carry on with where Guiliani left off in Ukraine., trying to dig dirt on the Bidens. Only Barr is doing it from the US side of the Atlantic, instead., .and drawing on Guiliani's information which so far had yielded nothing. The corruption rampant in Ukraine before the election of the new reformer President in the spring of 2019 was corrupt practices by Ukraine prosecutors (equivalent to our Attorney General), one who refused to prosecute anyone for corruption, and his successor who only prosecuted his enemies. That was the international definition of corruption that was revealed in the impeachment inquiry for which Trump was impeached. He was impeached .. for pressuring the new Ukraine president to act corruptly. Trump asked the Ukraine president for a favor, to single out and revive Ukraine's investigation of the Bidens so he could get an advantage in his campaign for re-election. Trump is now as corrupt as the prior Ukraine governments which he criticized. For that, we can thank the GOP Senators who gave him a permission slip when they acquitted him. On February 13,  Barr publicly chastised Trump for tweeting about the Roger Stone sentencing guidelines and the very next day, Feb. 14, Trump asserted he had a right to interfere in federal cases.  Bye Bye rule of law; hello weaponizing Department of Justice to do his bidding;  Help friends, punish enemies. Welcome to the corruption of justice and practices we used to criticize Ukraine for...being corrupt by using prosecution of enemies as a political weapon.  Barr hit back Feb.14 dropping the case against Andrew McCabe, who Trump had targeted he wanted prosecuted.  Per Politico, this could really rankle Trump.  





Saturday, February 8, 2020

Will democracy survive the Trump era?

Updated and edited February 14,2020

The column ready version follows this long one just below.. It is a condensation, update, and revision of this.  A version of the column ready one was published in the Winter Park Times, February 21, 2020

This is a very critical time in the history of the oldest democracy in the world. What sort of a country do we want to become? Our founders saw the end of the government they invented coming in the form of a president who would be king. Afterall they just had a revolution against a king and feared a return, so they constructed the Constitution as they did. by dividing the government into competing for power centers with the ability of one branch to check the other two,  and pitting the ambitions of each against the other.   In their wisdom, they also attempted to keep foreign governments from making us their satellites through bribery or through manipulating the vote of the people. They hoped this would be able to keep a wannabe tyrant from seizing power. This was a hope, but it depended on voters who saw it was in their interest to support the vision, too,. They had faith the populace would also vote for representatives who were sworn to support the Constitution and the rule of law with which all would comply. Ultimately if the United States' democracy survives the Trump era, it will depend on its voting citizens. There are no guarantees.

 This metamorphosis from democracy to dictatorship does not happen quickly. It happens before the governed realize it has happened and then it is too late because they have already given their power away. Losing democracy is an insidious process; it takes time,  it happens bit by bit, and in the end, the governed can only blame themselves because most dictatorships arise through the ballot box. Even in the times in which many of us have lived, we have seen this happen time and time again.  It was not just in Germany, Italy, or Spain, before World War II,  but it is happening post-Cold War,  in post-Communist Russia, post-Ataturk Turkey, and in Hungary. 

 We have a President who sees such countries who made the transition from democracy to dictatorship as a model of good governance he has often praised. With four more years of that, we can watch him consolidate his power and achieve his control of any check on his power until it is too late to turn back to a democracy we once knew and treasured. 

Here is how democracy dies. If you see any of that happening now, raise your hand. Wannabe dictators use their power to ensure their re-election, by keeping those who disagree from voting and favoring with monetary contributions, using the fear of retaliation,  and oratorical praise for those who vote for them.  Most failures of democracy are engineered through the ballot box. 

It takes a body of true believers in a leader to begin the death of democracy. They are those who pledge allegiance a person they admire as a great and strong leader, excusing any personal excesses, accepting his/her truth as their truth without question while ignoring legal constraints. Those who pledge allegiance to a person are the enablers of dictatorships. 

 Dictatorships are led by those who decree how laws are interpreted, who use the reins of their power given them by those who put them in power to enforce and suppress those who would challenge them. Their tools are exploiting, intensifying, prompting fears and a sense of victimization by some racial, religious, or economic group. They use the fear of retaliation and purging non-loyalists.  The longer they stay in power, the more powerful they become because they use the power they have to control the levers of justice and media so it becomes harder for any opposition to revolt via the ballot box.

 Does Donald Trump have that body of such dedicated supporters and is he an autocratic leader? Estimates range to as much as 40% of voters. I have seen in postings reflecting the view that those who do not show loyalty to Donald Trump are traitors.  The Constitution defines who is a traitor and it only can be charged when we are at war. It is not defined as those who betray a president, but those who betray our country. However, psychological profile studies of autocratic leaders and their followers defined autocratic tendencies. Studies noted that autocracies are not confined to one party, but autocratic attributes are particularly dominant among Trump and his dedicated followers. Given an autocratic kind of leader like Trump's personality profile, we should not be surprised.  Support of autocracies is not a new human trait.  Our country's founders were students of human nature and of what caused the failure of democracies in Greek and Roman history.  They designed a government with checks, balances,  the rule of law., and a bill of rights to make it difficult for autocrats to rise to power. It is not foolproof and ultimately depends on the governed to support the Constitution.

The rule of law is the first casualty of wannabe dictators who use once independent law enforcement systems to reward friends and punish enemies.  They stack the deck by misusing the power the once guiding light of laws and constitution gave them, and claiming their interpretation is the only one.  Furthermore, they surround themselves by the likeminded and bobble-headed yes people

A wannabe dictator uses his compliant legislature to fill the judiciary with those who are favored ideologically and will rule on the interpretations if action or laws were in compliance. with a constitution or laws.  .It takes a willing legislature to make this happen.  The Senate under control of  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell worked for hand in glove with the White House in the impeachment trial to suppress witnesses and evidence. McConnell's legislature, charged with approving federal judiciary appointments, has passed little legislation, but it has given priority to the tasks of approving ideologically friendly judges to lifetime appointments. Appointments used to require a supermajority 60 vote, but in changing the rule to a simple majority, 50+1 in the Obama era made rocket approval of judges without the need to get a vote from the minority party. 

Another way to weaken the rule of law is by a wannabe dictator abusing the powers of the executive branch. It is a technique that has also helped other wannabe dictators grab power.  They politicize their justice departments to help them win elections, either by controlling the ballot box and access to it or by destroying potential challengers with trumped-up investigations. Trump just gave the power to his Attorney General Bill Barr. to be the gatekeeper of election violations laws and to decide which violations of campaign and election laws will be investigated. In addition Barr, following a tweet from Trump, tried to help a Trump close friend, Roger Stone get less jail time, even though his sentence met established guidelines. That was not the first time Barr had intervened to support Trump's interests.  He has also opened the door for his loyal AG Bill Barr to carry on with where Guiliani left off in Ukraine., trying to dig dirt on the Bidens. Only Barr is doing it from the US side of the Atlantic, instead., .and drawing on Guiliani's information which so far had yielded nothing. Barr publicly chastised Trump for tweeting about the Roger Stone sentencing guidelines and the very next day, Feb. 14, Trump asserted he had a right to interfere in federal cases. Trump asserts he has a legal right to interfere in federal cases.  Bye Bye rule of law; hello weaponizing Department of Justice to do his bidding;  Help friends, punish enemies. Welcome to the corruption of justice and practices we used to criticize Ukraine for...being corrupt by using prosecution of enemies as a political weapon. 
We have a choice this November. In which direction do we want our country to go to?. A Constitution is not worth the paper it is written on without the support of the governed. We still have a chance to do something about it while we still have power left to act. 


This is a very critical time in the history of the oldest democracy in the world. What sort of a country do we want to become? Our founders saw the end of the government they invented coming in the form of a president who would be king. Afterall they just had a revolution against a king and feared a return, so they constructed the Constitution as they did. by dividing the government into competing power centers with the ability of one branch to check the other two, and pitting the ambitions of each against the other.   In their wisdom, they also attempted to keep foreign governments from making us their satellites through bribery or through manipulating the vote of the people. They had faith the populace would also vote for representatives who were sworn to support the Constitution and the rule of law with which all would comply. Ultimately if the United States' democracy survives the Trump era, it will depend on its voting citizens. They have that opportunity this year.  They will have less of a chance if Trump in a second term consolidates, even more, control over all branches of government and uses it to gain absolute power unconstrained by Congress and an independent judiciary, courts.or laws.
Losing democracy is an insidious process. It takes time, it happens bit by bit, and in the end, the governed can only blame themselves because most dictatorships arise through the ballot box. It happens before the governed realize it and then it is too late because the aspiring dictator has already controlled the levers of power.  W e have seen this happen time and time again.  It was not just in Germany, Italy, or Spain, before World War II, but it is happening post-Cold War, in post-Communist Russia, post-Ataturk Turkey, and in Hungary. We have a President who often praises certain countries for their strong leaders. They tend to be those who made the transition from democracy to dictatorship. Top of his list not so coincidentally have been Russia, Turkey, and Hungary. That is his peer group, the one to which he fancies himself a fellow peer. 

Here is how democracies have died. If you see any of that happening now, raise your hand. Wannabe dictators use their power to ensure their re-election by keeping those who disagree from voting and favoring those  with monetary contributions and who have demonstrated loyalty,  Their weapons are using the fear of retaliation, and by praise and rewards for those who support them. Their tools are exploiting and intensifying a sense of victimization by some racial, religious, or economic group so that many seek relief by a strong man. The longer they stay in power, the more powerful they become because they use the power they have to control the levers of justice and media so it becomes harder for any opposition to revolt via the ballot box.
The rule of law is the first casualty of ascending dictators.  They try to control how laws are interpreted and enforced.  Control of the once-independent judiciary could guarantee court  judgments that provide legal justification for their actions so they set about replacing judges with their loyalists

Any of this sound familiar? The Senate under control of  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY,  has given priority to the tasks of approving ideologically friendly judges to fill vacancies. with executive action unchallenged by courts It took only two weeks  after Trump was acquitted of abuse of power for him, to give  the power to his Attorney General Bill Barr. to decide which violations of campaign and election laws will be investigated. Free and fair elections are in jeopardy. Trump and Barr then intervened and overturned a justice department policy to help close friend, Roger Stone get less jail time, resulting in dramatic resignations of Department of Justice attorneys in protest and Barr asking Trump to stop tweeting and interventions.Trump has also opened the door for his loyal AG Bill Barr to receive the fruits of Rudy Guiliani’s efforts to find dirt on the Biden’s, carrying on with where Guiliani left off in Ukraine. The irony is that Ukraine was once considered corrupt for investigating and singling out the attorney general’s enemies for prosecution. 










Friday, February 7, 2020

And the winner in November 2020 will be...

And the winner in November, 2020, will be…..

A reality check is needed before the prediction: Trump’s economy is strong. It cannot be denied. Trump’s character is his greatest weakness.  In between those poles are some of Trump’s weaknesses and secondary strengths. He governs by fear and hate, and he channels many who feel likewise. .He sees himself as a vengeful power, punishing all who do not bow down.   He favors the rich and the ones personally loyal to him. https://markets.businessinsider.com/…/9-charts-comparing-tr…
Trump deserves credit for continuing the Obama recovery from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. However, economic growth has fallen short of the 4% per year needed to pay for the tax breaks for the wealthy, resulting in eye-popping debt.His job approval RealClear Politics most recent average is in the mid-'40s percentile.  . The Democratic candidate who can reassure they will not mess up the trend while still getting rid of Trump will have a leg up for the nomination and in November. (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president_trump_job_approval-6179.html There are some warning flags flying, however. Only a third of the voters feel they are better off than before he became president  ( https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/468802-majority-says-they-are-not-better-off-under-trump-poll ).  A more recent Gallup poll shows exactly the reverse, but the results were also very partisan. Republicans said they were; Democrats said they were not. https://news.gallup.com/poll/285593/say-better-off-past-elections.aspx At the same time, Trump's job approval rating is still below 50% yet most of the nation feels we are on the wrong track per https://apnews.com/863dbb1db71948e5801b990fb1f73e3e ) as of January 29. (near the end of the impeachment process.) . "Meanwhile, 70 percent say America is headed the wrong way. That’s up from 59 percent in December, with the percentage of those saying the country is on the wrong track now at its highest point in about a year.A majority of Americans, 52 percent, also believe things are going to get worse over the next year. .While Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to feel negative about the direction of the country, even Republican pessimism is on the rise. The poll found 55 percent of Republicans and just 9 percent of Democrats think the country is headed in the right direction. A month ago, 69 percent of Republicans and 16 percent of Democrats said the same.."
There is a sense of pessimistic hopelessness in spite of the economy and Democrats have not yet found a way or a candidate to address the distress many more are feeling.

 Democrats will have to have a message that both promises they will not rock the economic boat but improve it by getting more to the middle class than just hope and promises. Voters want their cake of economic gains and to eat it, too, without gritting their teeth at the President's tweets and impromptu grievance airing.  The Democrat who can convince voters they can be trusted to make a good faith effort and have the ability to deliver both will win in November.

If the Democrats want to keep Trump from his second term, they are going to have to do more than just run on a platform of dump Trump. Democrats have tried that for the past three years. Granted, we used to have a country for which our nation was founded: a more perfect union, to provide for the common defense and to promote our general welfare.  We have a president who promotes division, not unity, who invites foreign powers to influence how we vote, and who promotes his own welfare above our national security. However, Democrats will not be able to run on a solo platform of hate and fear of four more years, though those may be the most powerful motivators.  Fighting hate with hate only adds to divisions that threaten our stability. Democrats also cannot just run on a platform of providing a check to balance off Trump’s excesses. That will depend on turning the Senate blue and keeping the House majority if Trump gets s second term.. That gets Democrats a little better than the status quo at best.

 Trump’s rising tide has not lifted all boats. That is his weakness.  Democrats need to run on pragmatic and doable plans that iron out the problems most Americans have that are keeping them feeling insecure and sensing we are on the wrong track. They do  not want to wipe  out the economic gains of full employment; they want to continue the upward economic trendlines of the past ten years. They do see the wage gains being eaten up by increased costs of living and debt and fear they will lose what gains they have experienced. The holes that need to be filled are health care security, higher education and lower student debt,   a home they can afford, either as renters or owners, and air they can breathe and water they can drink.  They are not looking for a revolution or a chicken in every pot. They are just looking for a chance of current and future prosperity for their families and their children.  They know their children and they are enduring a diminished standard of living, that what they once could afford, they cannot have now and they know their children are seeing an even dimmer future.  It is not a question of class warfare. It is a simple fact that the rich have become richer as they have become poorer and to pay for the services they want the government  to provide, rolling back the excessive Trump tax cuts to the wealthy is a matter of pragmatic payfors.

This is not a radical platform.  It is a moderate one, based on reality, and it aims to appeal to the middle class that is feeling insecure but also wants to return to American values we once honored:  the freedom to lead our lives without fear of hateful repercussions and freeing us of  jarred nerves of leaders who violate our own moral and behavioral standards. There are many who still want  a government that puts the good of the country first instead of one existing  for  the benefit of a president whose goal is for one half of it to swear allegiance to him, whether out of fear or love and whose base he views as useful and necessary to maintain his own hold on power.


Monday, February 3, 2020

It ain't over till it's over

A version of this was published in the Winter Park Times, Feb.7,2020

As that baseball legend Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over”. The Ukraine saga is only in the 7th inning. The Senate Impeachment trial of Donald Trump may have ended, but there is more to come as leaks and House oversight hearings and the November presidential elections complete what the Senate failed to do in their half-baked, pseudo trial. It was the only trial in the history of impeachments to be conducted without witnesses and evidence. For that matter, it was the only trial of any kind I ever heard about that did not have witnesses and corroborating evidence. What’s next? There is still much to come.

- Expect between now and November voters will hear a constant drip of new information revealed by media and House hearings.  
- Expect Donald Trump to crow to the high heavens he was not only acquitted, but he was also exonerated.  That he was cleared of any wrongdoing will have little credibility since the Senate trial itself lost credibility when it denied witness testimony and evidence that had not been included in the House inquiry. Many GOP Senators post-trial  have stated they believed the House managers had proved their point, that Donald Trump used his power to get political favors from a foreign government  to help him in 2020, but they still voted to acquit him for a variety of rationales such as too close to an election, not a bad enough to justify removal from office, the process was flawed, unfair, too rushed, too partisan.  In reality,. it has always been a foregone conclusion the Senate vote would be to acquit because twenty GOP Senators would have had to join all Democrats to reach the two-thirds threshold vote to remove him from office. Any defections from party discipline were expected to be too few.  What was unexpected, but not surprising, was that all but two GOP Senators would vote to prevent anyone hearing the whole story from newly emerging witnesses and evidence. The GOP leadership pulled a fast one on the voters.  70% of voters wanted to hear witnesses and see documents that had come to light since the House impeachment vote.
- Expect John Bolton to finally get his opportunity to testify under oath. Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor, had finished a manuscript of his book that somehow was leaked to the media in the middle of the trial. He wrote that Trump told him he withheld bipartisan military aid to Ukraine until the Ukrainian president announced in the media of the personal favor of investigations Trump had asked him to do as a condition of getting military aid Trump had frozen. Bolton, the darling of Senate anti-Russian hawks, would have been the most credible first hand, direct witness, of Donald Trump’s single-minded intent. It was not about Trump’s unexpressed concern about corruption in Ukraine; it was to get the favor of the investigations announced.
- Expect 2020 to be about rigged elections.  Foreign actors, especially Russia,  got the green light to use their psyche warfare to help Donald Trump win again. The GOP Senators were not disturbed enough by foreign interference in our elections to oust Trump from office.  
- Expect an out of control president to act out of control. Sitting in the Oval Office is a President who believes he can do anything he wants, laws and norms be damned. There is no way to check him. He ducked the Mueller probe. He beat removal even though impeached.  His Department of Justice still proclaims a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime. The Senate trial only added to his belief he can issue blanket orders to ignore Congressional subpoenas and would not be impeached for it. The courts are hopelessly too slow-moving to make much difference before November. The only recourse Americans have left to keep this president who would be king (dictator, strong man, autocrat)  in check is for the GOP to lose the presidential election and control of the Senate in November.



From the conservative press immediately after the acquittal vote: (via web site the Righting)
Trump Impeachment Will Have Long-Term Consequences for Republicans
More evidence of the president’s guilt will come out, from John Bolton’s book and elsewhere. Indeed, one can be forgiven for thinking that the reason Rubio, Alexander, and others felt the need to proclaim the president’s guilt has less to do with a desire to tell the truth and more with getting ahead of a future torrent of irrefutable facts. Nor should we rule out that Trump, emboldened by his “exoneration,” will do something even worse.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Lessons from the Senate impeachment trial.

The vote on Friday afternoon to permit witnesses and documents was 49 yes to 51 no. Collins and Romney were the only Republicans votes to permit witnesses.  The vote on acquittal will be held Wednesday.  It is a foregone conclusion, the vote will be to acquit.

There are at least twelve lessons we can take from the Senate trial to date, assuming next Wednesday the vote is to acquit.

Lesson one: We cannot trust the guy in the White House to do what is in our national interest if he can do something else to benefit himself, even if it undermines his own  publicly stated foreign policy that has bi-partisan support and funding. Quid pro quos are ok if they serve to advance our foreign policy. However, the quid pro quo that his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney asked us to get over it, was very unique and corrupt. Trump engineered with Ukraine did just the opposite: he undermined his own administration's stated foreign policy to advance his personal political goals; he used extortion to pressure a reluctant corruption reforming Ukraine president to do a favor for him that was corrupt in itself; to cook up dirt on Joe Biden. The White House defense team impeached Hunter Biden, but they never were able to prove Joe deviated from US policy to get rid of a corrupt prosecutor that refused to crack down on any corruption. More vigorous prosecution would have hurt Hunter, not have helped him. Using corruption to fight corruption does not advance ending corruption. He used a national security tool with bi-partisan support and broke a law to do it;...military aid to help Ukraine fight off Russian aggression..as the bargaining chip contrary to his own administrations stated foreign policy to give Ukraine lethal military aid; and he sent a signal to Russia that he himself did not care a "s...t" about Ukraine (per Trump political appointee EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony ) to do it just as Ukraine was trying to negotiate with Russia to settle the conflict, and to get the best deal, they had only their backs covered by the US to .give them the power to reach a decent deal.

Lesson two:   The executive branch has won a power struggle with the legislative branch damaging the balance of power., shifting more to the executive branch.  Trump just got away with his refusal to honor any Congressional subpoena whether or not it was subject to executive privilege, a claim never made by any president in the 250 years of this country. He did lose on the timing of the acquittal vote. It was after the Super Bowl and the State of the Union address so he could not tout the acquittal.

Lesson three: Trump did all in his power to keep the full story from voters by stonewalling key witnesses and documents from Congress and the public.   The Senate continued the Trump stonewalling strategy. The GOP conducted a pseudo-trial rigged to keep the truth from the American people by refusing to allow heretofore first-hand witnesses to give testimony or to allow back up documentation to corroborate witness testimony, but hidden by the Trump administration from public view.  

Lesson four: John Bolton holds the closest thing to a smoking gun that could destroy the White House claim that Trump was concerned about general corruption in Ukraine as the motivation for his scheme. Bolton has unimpeachable credibility as the long time darling of the conservative hawks.  In his leaked book manuscript, Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, was in the room as Trump told him the reason he had not unfrozen the aid was to get the Ukrainian president to announce the favors: to investigate Burisma and the Bidens and to support the Russian propaganda line that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the DNC server in 2016.  The GOP Senate managed to keep him from testifying in the trial with their 51 to 49 vote against any witnesses. Per Bolton, Trump only cared about getting evidence damaging to the Bidens.   https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/31/us/politics/trump-bolton-ukraine.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage   Bolton's manuscript was leaked in the morning before the  Senate trial vote on permitting witnesses. Per the leaked Boston manuscript: In May Trump told Bolton to call the newly elected president of Ukraine to talk to Guiliani about the scheme to find dirt on the Bidens. Bolton never made the call.  The scheme was begun in May and the White House chief lawyer for his defense, Pat Cipollone, in the Senate trial was in on the planning meeting as were Bolton, Rudy Guiliani, and Mick Mulvaney. The White House defense team impeached Hunter Biden, but they never were able to prove Joe deviated from US policy to get rid of a corrupt prosecutor that refused to crack down on any corruption. More vigorous prosecution would have hurt Hunter,. It would not have helped him.. In short, what Joe Biden was doing did not advance Hunter Biden's cause; it had the potential of hurting him.
While it was a shame Bolton could not testify under oath at the Senate trial, expect him to testify before the House Oversight Committee under oath this spring. While the White House tries to block the publication of his book, his live sworn testimony will still echo until the November elections.

 Lesson five:  Any future presidential bad actors can get away with asking foreign intervention in our elections and pressuring reluctant foreign ally to do it. They know how they can neither be prosecuted for committing  the kind of bribery the President committed or be removed  by impeachment since the Senate concluded such acts  are not harmful enough to justify removing a president.

Lesson six: Bribery has been redefined to the Senate GOP majority mean that political favors are not something of value. That Trump withheld what Ukraine coveted, military aid and an Oval Office visit . in order to get the Ukrainian president to agree to investigate deeds committed by both an American political rival  and Ukraine’s role in 2016 elections to benefit Trump in his re-election, instead of Russia doing it. There is case law on the issue and the Federal Election Commission does consider favors are a thing of value.

 Lesson seven: The GOP is no longer the GOP, but the Trump party. This acquittal vote has just demonstrated his takeover is complete.

  Lesson eight:  Russia won the most.  They have their guy in the White House who perpetuates the myth it was Ukraine, not Russia who hacked the election in 2016. Using freezing military aid as a bargaining chip signals Trump  does not fully  have Ukraine’s back in the conflict with Russia. The Russia hawks in the GOP lost the power struggle battle, but Bolton may the hawk that wins the war.

 Lesson nine:  Any proclamation by Donald Trump he was exonerated by the Senate as not committing the acts as charged will not pass the smell test. He may have been acquitted, but that he was cleared of the charges is not believed by even all of his supporters in the Senate. That was respected retiring GOP Senator Lamar Alexander’s takeaway in his opinion. The House proved their case and justified their impeachment charges even without more testimony and documents so he would oppose the calling of more witnesses and documents in the trial.  This leaves his and others' arguments that even if true, the act itself was just not bad enough to justify removing him for office for it., leaving the question open:  if this is not bad enough, what is?

Lesson ten:  The Senate gave away another chunk of their power., in addition to failure to support their role in declaring war and war powers acts.  The GOP Senate that bellied up over accepted White House interpretations of the Constitution, refused to perform their Constitutionally granted duty to check the President and gave him a green light to defy any Congressional subpoena for any reason and their vital power to hold him accountable.  The executive branch won the power struggle with the legislative branch. Trump just got away with his refusal to honor any Congressional subpoena for any reason whether or not it was subject to executive privilege, a claim never made by any president in the 250 years of this country. His aids have absolute immunity. However, that needs yet to be litigated in test cases and one is pending regarding Don McGahn's role in the Mueller investigation, probably landing in the Supreme Court, long after the November election and years past the Mueller investigation.  https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/11/mcgahn-testify-subpoena-absolute-immunity-ruling  The first judge to rule against absolute immunity in the McGahn case concluded we do not have kings.  Appeals through layers of courts have just begun.

Lesson eleven: The door is now open for foreign actors to help Trump get re-elected in 2020, to undertake active measures on his behalf, to use psyche warfare through social media to help him, and there is no way to stop it.  If Mueller could not prove Trump himself conspired with the Russians, we saw him the next day after that publicly announced  conclusion exonerating him not only welcomed foreign interference, he put pressure on a foreign  government not willing to play his game to do the deeds for him.

Lesson twelve: It is now up to the voters in November to endorse or damn Trump's deeds and their Senators who supported him.  The Democrats have a gift delivered to them.  They can now assert the trial itself will be considered a  sham by many voters and they realize the  GOP pulled a fast one on the voters. Trump will not be able to claim he was exonerated of wrongdoing; he was simply acquitted on a party-line vote. Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner was the first Senator from a purple state to swear his loyalty to Donald Trump to deny John Bolton or any other witness from testifying that might show his leader in a bad light.   Gardner, too, needs to be held accountable in November.  

While  John Bolton's book was leaked with bombshell allegations, Lev Parnas, Guiliani's man on the ground in Ukraine, wrote a letter to Mitch McConnell outlining what he would testify to if witnesses were allowed.  He names and says he has documentation. There were more in the loop, including Senators and Congressmen, in on the plans to get dirt on Biden, than we thought. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/lev-parnas-letter-says-he-has-information-relevant-to-trump-impeachment-trial  Now, thanks to the Senate vote against witnesses, neither Bolton or Parnas can testify under oath in the trial. That door has been shut. They may be called to testify at House hearings under oath in the future, however.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Trump's road to re-election: Damage Joe Biden and tout his economy

Donald Trump's road to re-election is to damage his most feared opponent, Joe Biden,  so that even Democrats fall for it. That explains the GOP fixation on  Hunter Biden in the impeachment trial. They however had a stretch to prove the link that implicated Joe Biden, relying on circumstantial and coincidental timelines of his actions and words.  Trump is putting his eggs in one basket: trumpeting an economy that is booming.  However, that strategy does have black caution flags waving. Most Americans believe the nation is on a wrong track, always a bad sign for an incumbent per a recent poll. https://apnews.com/863dbb1db71948e5801b990fb1f73e3e

The overarching message of Trump supporters, "it is the economy stupid",  is based on the belief the strong economy will outweigh any of his negatives from disgust with his character, to his White  Nationalism, to his bailouts of agriculture needed by his protectionist trade policies, to his pro-Russian inclinations in foreign policy,. Even with the bailout, farm bankruptcies are up 20% hitting family farms the hardest.   Exposed in the impeachment process was his unethical,  outside the law conduct damaging the nation's security interests whenever it benefitted him and benefits him personally in the future.

Trump may be able to make a strong case with the well-heeled but his economy also is showing weaknesses.    Ronald Reagan's famous: "are you better off today than...." question is critical.  Disturbing to the GOP should be a  November poll in the Financial Times.  Only roughly 1/3 of voters nation-wide believe they are better off since Trump took office.  The GOP is starting with warning flags flying as voters take a reality check. The effect of the Trump economy has been uneven with the rich getting richer and everyone else less so.https://www.cbsnews.com/news/farm-bankruptcies-jumped-20-percent-in-2019-even-with-billions-in-aid-from-u-s-government/?ftag=CNM-00-10aab6a&linkId=81567135&fbclid=IwAR0F495mcy6Soc4s-OW5vFBrM-C80ot72Kpu6z44jI99webHXuzykiOBezA   What really counts is whether the grassroots feel they are better off, especially those in the five or six states in the industrial midwest responsible for swinging to Trump in 2016. Those states provided the electoral college margins that put Trump in the White House. To ignore that geographic fact would be political malpractice.

Trump is right to fear Biden. He looks good on paper and in polls, but how he performs in the state by state primaries and caucuses and on super Tuesday will be more important.  The fight for the electoral college, the only vote that counts, will take place in the industrial east/midwest, as it did in 2016.  Biden has the blue-collar credentials and a long history of his connection with his roots and voters. He does not have to channel blue-collar, middle-class anger with rhetoric because his credentials with those voters are well established during his years in the public arena.  He is also supported by the overwhelming percentage and voter turnout activists in the African-American community he needs to win the nomination.  So long as he maintains evidence in the polls he is the most likely to continue getting their support. They are pragmatic. That minorities complain they have been cut out of the Democratic party nomination process need to consider their own minority candidates did not get their support early in the process even before the party kept changing the debate participant criteria.  I constantly hear comments in the media and in circles of friends from those who are independents or are disillusioned members of the Republican party might consider voting for a Democrat "if it was the right one like Biden".   Splitting Biden's vote are a number of moderate candidates in the caucus/primary races who could also reach the independents and turned-off Republicans. The two billionaires in the race are also vying for those moderate and middle of the road voters.   Few Democrats, though, in a general election, have Biden's trifecta of appeal.  Bernie Sanders has added one very important additional sector to his economic populist appeal: younger voters, and so far they have been strong enough factors to challenge Biden. Sanders but he loses in his appeal to moderates and the middle and older African Americans who drive their voters' turnout. in primaries and the general.

Those candidates viewed being more liberal and making more radical changes in the economy  such  as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are a major force and are splitting the more progressive voters.    Sanders' self-designation as a socialist would be a deal killer for the swing-voting moderates and independents.  Warren who is not handicapped with the socialist brand could be acceptable to both wings as their second choice if the party gets hopelessly split down the middle. Therein lies her strength as a  potential compromise candidate.

From my Nov. 5, 2019,  blog posting that discusses this theme in greater detail, reproduced here.
The impact of the impeachment action is yet to be seen and may not, in the long run, but it could the determining factors, contributing to the disgust and character turnoffs of Trump.  The Senate trial began with those wanting Trump removed at 51%. in national public polls. The key is in 6 battleground states which is what counts in the electoral college. One advantage in getting impeachment out of the way before 2020 begins in earnest is for Democrats to go for the President's weakness: he wants to make those in the battleground states worse off by repealing affordable healthcare insurance for the lower middle class, tie them and their children to the millstone of student debt, note the Trump administration is wedded to big pharmaceuticals' high costs and removing coverage of pre-existing conditions. They should take a page from their 2018 win and go about showing suburban women how Trump is not in their court, including supreme court choices who want to turn back the clock to a time before Roe v Wade.  Pocketbook issues that count can be added to the "disgust" factor" with Trump's character in a way that may offset his followers devoted to his anti-immigrant and racist stance in the exact swing states he must win in order to win in the electoral college. Remember: national polls are a mirage. Democrats usually win those, but only what counts will be the electoral college vote based on individual states.

From the Hill posting: "The Financial Times-Peterson poll released in November found that almost two-thirds of Americans said their finances haven’t gotten better since Trump has taken office.
"Thirty-one percent of respondents in the new poll said their finances have gotten worse since Trump won the White House, while 33 percent said their finances haven’t gotten better or worse in the same time frame.
"Just over one-third, 35 percent, of respondents did say they have seen a positive change in their finances since Trump took office.
"Of those who said their financial situation has worsened since Trump took office, 36 percent said their wages are to blame, while 19 percent blamed their personal or family debts."
The poll also showed an even split amongst likely voters over whether Trump’s policies help or hurt the U.S. economy. Forty-five percent of those polled said they believe Trump's policies have improved the economy, while another 45 percent said they’ve worsened the economy." https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/468802-majority-says-they-are-not-better-off-under-trump-poll
That is an interesting contradiction.  Even some of those who do not see they are better off or are worse off under Trump still think Trump's policies have improved the economy.  Politicians who think that voters are only interested in their own financial situation will vote on behalf of their own self-centered interest may overlook the optimism of hope, that others are benefitting and they may too, sometime.  That is the value of full employment, some income security even if they get laid off.  The downside to that is that they may have to take a cut in wages or income and they know that even wages are beginning to increase and minimum wage laws are gaining popularity.  What that may mean for Democrats is that their candidate should not threaten economic trends that they like, and still make their economic lives better.

 While the progressive left talks about how they would make their lives better, the cost of their proposals and shaking root and branch of the economic system with increasing debt, there is an uneasiness within those with hope and feeling positive about their gains will be threatened.  They want both: the gains and the betterment.  That may explain why Biden and Bloomberg are showing polling strength, Warren has faded, and Sanders appears peaked with a set number of dedicated supporters. It is a balancing act and many know it. They are asking themselves do they want to take risks or be cautious.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Senate trial fair? The GOP takes the hypocritical oath

Revised and updated January 27,2020
With apologies to the oath of Hippocrates taken by physicians, here is the oath that must have been taken by the GOP senators: the oath of hypocrites. The oath swearing in newly elected Senators is " must swear or affirm that they will "support and defend the Constitution." The oath the Senators first took in the trial was very different They swore at the trial beginning "you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you god ". Every Senator acting as jurors in the impeachment trial took both of these oaths. The oath unspoken by the GOP looks more like they are swearing allegiance to Donald Trump. With the GOP Senators, the choice they face is to be a team player or a truth player rendering impartial justice. That choice has never been made clearer with the leak of the John Bolton book draft and textual documents of Lev Parnas. So far, the GOP Senators are determined to forbid any new witnesses or documentary evidence in this "fair" trial. This course of action does not meet the smell test and voters are not stupid. They know what fair trials look like. If Bolton is denied the chance to testify under oath in the trial, the GOP will increase the intensity of the stench.

Like bobbleheads nodding in unison, so far GOP Senators echo the party line in unison: no new witnesses or documents While the final vote to permit witnesses has not taken place, during the first chance they had to put it on the agenda, they refused. A second chance will come at the end of case presentations and questions. If interviews of Senators from purple states deemed potential votes permitting new witnesses are an indication, the GOP leadership and the White House seem to still have control over their caucus in a unified front to oppose additional witnesses and documents, even as new witnesses and evidence emerge that shred their carefully constructed arguments.

The question of whether this is a "fair" trial has just gotten an answer. It is no. Without additional witnesses, the flim-flam of the GOP/White House case would not be exposed. Neither the Senators nor the voters will get a full picture of the President's corrupt intent. We need to hear from John Bolton, President's national security advisor. under oath. Trump immediately denied the critical conversation that addresses the main claim that Trump did not tie freezing military aid to Zelensky to the "favors" he asked, to investigate the Bidens and Ukraine's role in hacking the DNC server in 2016. Timelines, testimony from Department of Defense and Budget officials, and ambassadors indicate that freezing the aid orders from the President and the July 25 telephone happened the week before and within hours after the call. Calls from the Ukraine embassy asking where is their aid preceded the July 25. The White House attorneys had argued these were not first-hand witnesses, but now one has come forth, Bolton. Whether Bolton's book draft would shake loose the needed four GOP Senators to vote to permit witnesses is unlikely, but hope springs eternal.

Slamming the GOP Senate's opposition on permitting witnesses is John Bolton's draft of his book that directly ties the President freezing/releasing military aid to Ukraine to Pres. Zelensky announcing the investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election DNC hack. The White House already had a copy of the draft. No wonder the GOP and the White House do not want more testimony and documentation. By distributing the draft, Bolton has his insurance policy...even if the White House tries to kill the book or excise the damning section or divert it to courts over executive privilege claims. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/us/politics/trump-bolton-book-ukraine.html?fbclid=IwAR3Fx2OflOdlQCgIpxKVSidjptHCDO If the GOP questions Bolton, his word against the President, then get him to testify under oath in the trial. In any case, the genie is already out of the bottle thanks to the book draft leak.

The guy on the Ukrainian ground executing Guiliani's plans to get dirt on the Bidens Lev Parnas has emerged as a first-hand witness that Donald Trump was both knowledgeable and in charge of the scheme. This was no rogue operation. Like Bolton, he too needs to testify under oath and be cross-examined.
The question of fairness of the impeachment process is one of the pots calling the kettle black. The President chortled publicly he has kept the documentary evidence and direct witnesses from the process and then the GOP in an extreme form of hypocrisy have claimed there are no direct witnesses so there is not enough proof of their case. The Bolton book draft damned that argument.

To advocate for their arguments, White House lawyers have told flat out lies. They are asking you to forget what your eyes and ears actually witnessed, and just believe the spin. One of the most often told lies by the White House lawyers in the impeachment hearings was that the impeachment was unfair because the White House and GOP House members could not participate. 47 members of the GOP House had equal time cross-examination rights in the 'basement", many of those same participating in the pizza party protest. I sat through every hearing in the inquiry phase and heard defenders of Trump called as witnesses and those from the other side have equal time to cross-examine. And then this gem: The White House was invited to participate in the House Judiciary Committee and they refused, claiming, this hearing was unfair, so let us wait until the Senate trial." What it means is that the GOP will only participate when their party is in control. So far, the GOP Senators are determined to forbid any witnesses or evidence in this "fair" trial. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry/white-house-appears-dismiss-house-judiciary-s-invitation-participate-impeachment-n1097021

.There is a contrary streak in me. Democrats would win if Republicans persisted in denying witnesses and documents in the Senate trial and their votes to acquit and to deny witnesses and documents are totally along party lines. It would bolster Democrats' point: Trump was not exonerated; this was a party loyal vote. period. It was not a fair trial. We should have heard such testimony under oath, or, if not testifying, take the fifth, or claim executive privilege. We will never get the whole truth of the President's role and purpose. What is important, though, in equal measure, Democrats will continue providing evidence outside the trial to keep their attack fact points alive right through November. Investigative journalism will carry the ball forward and Bolton's book will sell well if it escapes the White House noose.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Donald Trump's character was put on trial in the Senate


Rep. Adama Schiff in a memorable and moving impromptu closing argument in Day4 of the Senate impeachment trial made two arguments:  we cannot wait until Nov. 20 to remove him because is dangerous and makes choices that can be harmful to the country and because he puts his interests first over those of the  American people.  We cannot trust him to do what is right. He will do what is good for Donald Trump.

Even if the GOP Senate votes to acquit in January, the character factors will linger until November.  The Senate trial will only add to a feeling of disgust with Trump the person, which will play a larger role than the economy and public policy issues in promoting the defeat of him  On that theme,  other character flaws can be hung: lying, racism, and egomania.   A closing couple of sentences of Schiff's should be played over and over in campaign advertising., edited for the campaign " YOU KNOW YOU CAN'T TRUST THIS PRESIDENT TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT FOR THIS COUNTRY. YOU CAN TRUST HE WILL DO WHAT'S RIGHT FOR DONALD TRUMP......RIGHT MATTERS. AND THE TRUTH MATTERS. OTHERWISE, WE ARE LOST."

Monday, January 20, 2020

Trump's corruption policy: let's be as corrupt as the rest of the world

A version was published in the Winter Park Times, January 23, 2020

Trump's corruption policy is not to fight corruption in foreign countries, but to make America as corrupt as the rest of the world. Now, we have a president who wants to permit US companies to bribe foreign officials in order to get business contracts abroad. US is already no angel at home. Foreigners often point to the US campaign finance system that makes corruption legal through lax campaign contribution rules and expensive election campaigns.

This is in the midst of an impeachment process where corruption in Ukraine is viewed as a bad thing. and the president has been charged with  a form of bribery of the Ukrainian president  (called "pressuring" in the articles of impeachment described in the abuse of power section). Trump is accused of withholding needed  military aid and a visit to the White House in order to give incentives for  the Ukrainian president  to find dirt on the presidents' likely 2020 opponent and to announce the undertaking of the investigation publicly.
At the top of the anti-corruption measures was a 1977 law forbidding  US citizens to bribe foreign government officials in order to get contracts and business. Bribery is viewed as a criminal act, whether in our country or abroad. Since 2017, President Trump has been advocating overturning the Corrupt Practices Act. This year Larry Kudlow, Director of the president's National Economic Council, said the President is looking into the possibility of overturning the 1977 anti-bribery law by using administrative measures. Trump called the anti-bribery statute unfair since it puts US corporations at a disadvantage in vying for contracts abroad when they are competing against bidders who have no such constraints or scruples. From a businessman's perspective, it is much easier to do business with corrupt governments because a bribe will get you around inconvenient zoning and financing restrictions if you know which official who is open to certain under-the-table offers and who are close to the ruler or power structure.

At the same time, campaign donations are being raised for certain GOP Senators acting as jurors in the President's impeachment trial who pledge to vote to acquit in advance of the trial itself. According to an investigative report of Senators benefitting by these special fundraising efforts are those who are facing tough  re-election campaigns in purple states who may feel inclined to waffle on acquitting the president in the trial. The Hill that obtained the fundraising appeal letter.  Among those who are targeted for campaign funds raised by Donald Trump and the GOP in this special effort is our own Colorado senator Cory Gardner.  There is nothing illegal about this, nor this does not mean Gardner is corrupt, but it is an example of the difficulties that Senators have in bucking Trump if they wanted to vote to acquit and it reveals  the power of campaign contributions as a party discipline weapon. The amount of money needed to campaign successfully is enormous given the cost of advertising and the length of the campaign season. Reforms are needed in both of those cost generating factors. The recent Citizen's United decision by the US Supreme Court that overturned the federal law forbidding campaign contributions by corporations to candidates has only made that form of legalized corruption of the legislative process worse as money more easily can flow to campaign coffers.

The question on the table is what kind of a country do we want to be? The uncorrupt standard for the rest of the world or do we want to be a country that is as corrupt as the actors we so piously condemn?  Not only must we not let the Trump administration legalize bribery abroad, but we should start cleaning house in reforming campaign finance laws at home.








Sen. Cory Gardner is no profile in courage, Blog posting 10/2019