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.  

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/14/doj-drops-case-against-former-fbi-deputy-director-andrew-mccabe-115251

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/us/politics/trump-william-barr.html?fbclid=IwAR0vqvhH3YUZ_oCScdVESixVTewca_VAihssUoo9eCAMr_9tTA6TyDyOLEY

https://www.cnn.com/?fbclid=IwAR1chAHG0c4At7k_udtJ87xhGcH8Vd_PNcde7FekMOlVqNCoAmMiT7JXKfM

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/barr-acknowledges-justice-dept-has-created-intake-process-to-vet-giulianis-i

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
https://winterparktimes.com/opinion/columnists/will-democracy-survive-the-trump-era/


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. 

COLUMN VERSION; CONDENSED AND EDITED



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. 

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/14/doj-drops-case-against-former-fbi-deputy-director-andrew-mccabe-115251

https://www.npr.org/2020/02/06/803506238/attorney-general-barr-issues-new-rules-for-politically-sensitive-investigation

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/us/politics/trump-william-barr.html?fbclid=IwAR0vqvhH3YUZ_oCScdVESixVTewca_VAihssUoo9eCAMr_9tTA6TyDyOLEY



https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/13/17823488/hungary-democracy-authoritarianism-trump

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason_laws_in_the_United_States__

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/barr-takes-control-legal-matters-interest-trump-including-stone-sentencing-n1
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Recep-Tayyip-Erdogan____

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201712/analysis-trump-supporters-has-identified-5-key-traits

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mind-in-the-machine/201812/complete-psychological-analysis-trumps-support


https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/11/10/trump-election-autocracy-rules-for-survival/

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.

https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/feb/06/donald-trump/no-economy-didnt-suddenly-get-strong-under-donald-/?fbclid=Iw

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.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/democrats-vow-trump-probes-to-go-on-after-impeachment-trial-ends/ar-BBZxSZn?ocid=

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/parnas-accuses-top-trump-officials-of-awareness-of-ukraine-scheme-77925445815?cid=sm_fb_maddow&fbclid=IwAR0Cz8FInjLpwFkd-GlngTCuqr4oXb46mnsTLGFkBfo3IkVGEjFapRRkQPs

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.