Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Trump's war on the deep state sets dangerous precedents

In the President’s State of The  Union address January 30 there was an alarming  sentence: “ I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.” If the definition  “undermining  of public trust”means lack of credibility due to political bias against him, his  proposal sets some dangerous precedents.  There are  implications  for the impeachment process , endangering lasting public policies,  for undermining the rule of law, and  for preventing government corruption.
Trump has been on a crusade to fire those investigating him who he believes are not  loyal to him. Rumored In danger of being fired are  Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his supervisor  Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. CNN reported Trump asked Rosenstein "if he was on his team".President Trump has already  fired  FBI director James Comey after he failed  to give him  a loyalty pledge and  Trump forced out Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe after asking for whom he voted in 2016 and noting he had a wife running for office as a Democrat who received Democratic party campaign money.

President Trump may have a right to have  loyalists in key supervisory positions  of his executive branch, as he did in private business,  but what he does not understand is  that in government that  right does not transfer to appointing or controlling those who are investigating him for potential crimes. It is instead  viewed as an attempt to thwart the investigation for his own benefit. That is the core of “obstruction of justice” charges that brought down Richard Nixon and could be levied against Donald Trump by the special counsel’s  office. Those same charges could also could be cited by a post 2018 Democratic controlled  House  to impeach (indict) him and it could  motivate an outraged Senate to convict him.

This line  in the address  is also likely  a strategy Trump advocates to destroy the “deep state”, a cadre of lower level protected  civil servants, including even rank and file  FBI agents, who are not acting the way he wants them to. The "deep state' conspiracy theory gathered wings when FBI agent Peter Strzok's anti-Trump emails were revealed. Strzok was immediately reassigned last summer from the Russian connection investigation to Human Resources, but later it was also revealed that it was Strzok who had drafted a memo for FBI Director Comey that resulted in Comey announcing he had reopened the criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, an action that many believe resulted in Trump winning since her polls crashed as a result. Enough for that conspiracy theory and the deep state. Currently,  the criteria for firing government employees protected by  civil service regulations is mostly  whether they are incompetent or fail to perform duties or committed a crime or failed to observe rules. A political bias could fall into the definition umbrella of undermining public trust unless “Public trust” is not carefully defined.
His proposal could make  lower ranking federal employees having political views that differ from him a firing offense.

Andrew Jackson is credited fathering  the spoils system by rewarding those who supported him with jobs and other plums. So corrupt and widespread  was that practice, various  civil service laws were put into effect in the last century  that protected a large group of lower level government  employees from being fired for solely  political reasons  by defining  what constituted proper cause.

The first step taken by any anti-democratic wannabe autocrat is to take total control of  law enforcement agencies by replacing them top to bottom  with his loyalists. The semblance of legality continues, but the practice of the rule of law is destroyed allowing the autocrat to get away with crimes or corruption. Trump  has indicated his belief any number of times when he fumed  that  the Department of Justice headed by the Attorney General Jeff Sesssions should serve him instead of recusing himself from the Russian investigation.

If Democrats  should control the White House after  2020 elections  and  if the criteria for firing civil servants is conforming to a fuzzy definition of public trust based on political loyalties, then Democrats could use the new precedent to undermine  and overturn what the Trump administration had accomplished by ousting Trump loyal  public employees.  What goes around comes around.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Hypocrisy is not new in politics; , it has just gotten worse

Rep. Devin Nunes, Donald Trump's GOP House member errand boy, was at it again. After having to recuse himself from the Russian investigation because of flagrant partisanship,  in a prior stunt. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee,  wants to release his "memo" on alleged misdeeds by the FBI.  The Trump administration's own Justice Department says it contains classified information and  release would be "extraordinarily  reckless ", harmful to US security.  Nunes is on a thinly disguised  campaign to try to obstruct the Mueller investigation by damaging the FBI's reputation and to give a reason to fire Deputy  AG Rod Rosenstein who is  supervising the Mueller probe. The reason the Justice Department gave : the Nunes memo includes  information into FBI secret methods to gather information. No wonder Russian bots are cheerleading for the release of this memo. Russia could  learn much helpful to their own attempts to subvert US democracy and learning more about sources and methods used by US security services.  The FBI believes also it is misleading. and inaccurate.

Of course, after exhaustive investigations led by a GOP Congress into Hillary Clinton's e mails that allegedly contained classified information, those investigations  went nowhere because her intent to include them was not proven. Now  Nunes intentionally wants to release classified information harmful to the US.     Is it  OK if the GOP intentionally does release information that hurts US security  but it is  not OK if Clinton unintentionally did it  and with no damage to US security?

It is just boys being boys and locker room talk if the GOP 's flag bearer, the President of the US.  admits to sexual assault on starlets and pays off porn stars for his encounters, but it is impeachment worthy when Bill Clinton "did not have sex with that women".  Give Trump a "mulligan", White  Evangelical religious leader  's exhort while some of  their believers believe Trump   "was sent by God".  Give me a break.  How many of the GOP would like their kids to grow up and be like Donald Trump?

I yearn for those simpler  days when President Jimmy Carter admitted he had "lust in in heart".  But of course, he, a devout Christian,  came in for ridicule by his political critics  as a hypocrite.   How far  down  the toilet has the country gone?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Right wing conspiracy theories take a licking; updated to reflect McCabe's "resignation"

Update: January 31, 2018: Strzok, the FBI agent who is referenced below, and who was caught texting anti-Trump messages and taken off the Russian connection investigation, was the one who drafted charges for his director, James Comey, that materially helped Trump to get elected because it reopened the Clinton email investigation before the election.

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News January 30-31 2018, but did not contain the updates reflecting the importance of McCabe being pressured by the White House to resign nor the GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee voting to release a memo that contained classified information. The blog posting below addresses these.

I am a great fan of Dan Brown’s books, The DaVinci Code  being the most famous.   His novels  are a delight for those who love conspiracy theories.  They are  full of secret societies using obscure codes to conspire against some power center or other. There is a difference between fact and the  fiction of conspiracy theories in real life  and keeping those two  straight is a challenge in today’s partisan media that promotes such theories.
The last chapter of the Russian connection novel has not been written, but there is an overt attempt by some to write the  story’s ending full of  conspiracy theories. Both the GOP Congress, Donald Trump’s  supportive media,  and the Trump administration attempted  to convince us, the voting public,  that  the fiction  they create is political reality as part of  their coordinated campaign  to destroy the FBI’s credibility.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC)  claimed the proof  of some FBI conspiracy society is a text messages sent between  FBI agent  Peter Strzok and an FBI  lawyer girl  friend. The text ciriticized Trump and references  a conspiracy society. Were they joking? Only the context could tell. . Trump media went ballistic  claiming more conspiracies because the texts were missing, but Thursday the Justice Department found them.  Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) claimed he had an  informant with knowledge of some secret society meetings  of FBI agents who  are  planning a coup. Johnson walked back his claim when challenged to give the informant’s name, times, place, date of,  meetings.
Another nail in the coffin of the anti-Trump secret society conspiracy was that if Strzok was partisan, he certainly did not act like it. UPDATE: Update: Strzok, , was the one who drafted charges for his director, James Comey, that materially helped Trump to get elected because it reopened the Clinton email investigation before the election.

Trump ultra loyalist Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) was circulating a memo to  GOP House Intelligence members  charging  the FBI’s misconduct in seeking a FISA warrant. Nunes received a slap down by the Department of Justice  as”extrordinarily  reckless”, harmful to US security , in releasing the memo since it contained classified information. Russian bots were encouraging the release as was Trump TV. ,
The GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee voted Monday to release the "memo" and classified information, as well as conduct a full on investigation of the investigators.
Should  Special Counsel Robert Mueller find convincing evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors” , including obstruction of justice,  that result  in serious attempts to impeach the President, Trump and his backers’  defense  will be anything Mueller reports should be  discounted because his findings have been corrupted and  contaminated by anti-Trump FBI agents engaged in  anti-Trump conspiracies.
It is no small  coincidence that also FBI Deputy Director Andrew  McCabe and others in the FBI have come under fire from the GOP since they are the ones who have copies of the FBI Director James Comey’s contemporary notes of his  conversations with Donald Trump that included how  the President tried to get him to pledge loyalty and to go lightly on an investigation of Mike Flynn. The notes may not be the Nixon’s tapes, but they are the next  best similar  evidence Trump tried to obstruct the FBI’s Russian connection investigation when he fired Comey.

One  GOP charge  is that Comey’s  then deputy, Andrew McCabe, influenced  Comey to conclude that there was no criminal wrongdoing in the Clinton email investigation because there was not enough evidence to prove her intent.    Those two  FBI agents in high positions in  the investigations into the Russian connection, Strzok and  and McCabe, . will not be able to influence Mueller’s  final report anyway since Strzok was moved to Human Resources last summer and McCabe has announced he was quitting the FBI
Monday because of the President's pressure. Who is the next victim of the President's purge of the FBI in his attempt to stop investigators from investigating him?

Ironically, Comey had appeared biased against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Twice Comey broke FBI rules causing Clinton's poll numbers to drop when he announced Hillary Clinton was under criminal investigation for misuse of emails..   At the same time, Comey kept it a secret per rules the FBI also had the Trump campaign’s Russian connection  under investigation.

UPDATE: Andrew McCabe has announced he is leaving the FBI earlier than he had planned.. This may cost him money if he .leaves before retirement date that would give
him benefits. Whether he left in protest of the partisan attacks or left on his own steam a few weeks early just to clear the air , or was forced out by the attacks, is not known yet. However, Comey is gone (fired for not pledging allegiance to the President), now McCabe, and next Rosenstein, and then Mueller? This is a virtual slow motion Saturday night massacre by other means in progress, as the Administration and the GOP coordinate actions to obstruct Special Counsel Mueller's investigation by getting rid of the prosecution leadership looking into possible conspiracy, with Russians to influence the 2016 election, obstructing justice, and money laundering. by Donald Trump and or his associates and family. Obviously, both the GOP and the administration fear Mueller may
find something impeachment worthy to launch such a concerted effort.
Hopefully this spurs on attempts in Congress to protect Mueller by requiring a panel of judges to
review first or ads a sense of urgency by Mueller to get his final report done before he is fired.
Nixon tried to obstruct justice by firing those investigating him about his role in Watergate.
. First he fired Special Counsel Archibald Cox. that led to the resignation of AG Elliott Richardson,and Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus, and it ultimately did not save him, but his attempt was known as the Saturday night massacre.
In any authoritarian country, this would be known as a purge and would be how a wannabe dictator would undermine the rule of law, taking over enforcement agencies which he considers his personal tools of power.

Monday, January 15, 2018

If Donald Trump is not a racist, what is he? A demagogue?

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News January 23-24, 2018.

If President Trump is not a racist and rightly claims  to the press he is ” the least racist person you ever interviewed”,  what is he? For the sake of argument and  to take his word for it, then he is a demagogue who  is using words that he does not believe, playing to  a significant number of those who are in his base of supporters.

The recent  firestorm erupted when President Trump in a meeting with mostly Republican members of Congress and one Democrat over the issue of DACA and immigration was purported to call African countries “s...t holes” and asking "why we need more Haitians ?" It was the acrimony resulting from this meeting that eventually led to the government shutdown because of the President's waffling after outrage erupted from his media friends and from the Freedom Caucus hardliners that refused to support anything that smacked of "amnesty" for the DACA kids.

The purpose of the ill-fated meeting was to hear a bi-partisan compromise proposal on the budget by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin )D-IL) that among other issues that would have funded for a year the wall between the US Mexico and would have given DACA kids status to prevent them from being deported. The tell-tale comment cited by many that Donald Trump was likely a racist was his favoring immigrants from Norway over immigrants from countries with dark skinned inhabitants.  Some   GOP members attending the meeting first claimed they did not recall the s...thole word and later some said they did not hear the exact word . One who was present and  who  declined to deny Trump said those words was Senator Graham . Verifying  it to the rafters was the only Democrat attending the meeting, Senator Durbin (D-IL) .
It is a difficult case to make that Donald Trump is not a racist. There is so much evidence to the contrary. What is a racist, anyway? Googling the definition yields various results, and even long winded opinion pieces. While definitions of what is a racist varies, but what they all have in common is that racists believe one race is superior to another and the racist discriminates against racial groups. Donald Trump has a  lifetime history of words and actions with which he  has frequently shown  disdain for those of color and advocated policies harmful to them. He was the author and main advocate of  birtherism and painted all illegal immigrant Mexicans as rapists and murderers, to name a few examples often cited. He used his disdain of certain racial groups as a whole to rationalize building the wall and intensified deportation policies toward racial groups that have one characteristic in common: darker skin color. As Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) so succinctly said in an interview in the Washington Post "“.-and on the question of what’s in his heart, do you have any idea-thought... that he would’ve called into question Barack Obama’s birth certificate if Barack Obama were white?”That he is a real life  Archie Bunker of Queens, only richer, is the easiest conclusion to reach.

However, let us assume he has been putting on an act though  in his heart he is not racist. Instead he continues to  speak out  and to act  like he one  because   it has been his shtick that has helped  get him elected and  he has reason to believe it will  continue to work in the future. Reports are that Donald Trump's immediate concern after the "s..hole" (alternative facts: term leaked out, he was assured it would work well with his base and he called those in his base that affirmed that. Later at Mar-a-Lago, he was heard boasting about his comments.   Does that make him a demagogue?

There are a variety of definitions of a demagogue, depending on which dictionary is searched. In ancient Greece it meant a leader of the people, but in current culture, it is defined as  “A politician who seeks to win and hold office by appeals to mass prejudice .Demagogues often use lies and distortion”  (American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy) or “a political agitator who appeals with crude oratory to the prejudice and passions of the mob”  (Collins English Dictionary) .   By those definitions  alone, Trump fits the profile.

The most plausible view of Donald Trump is not the non racist one he says he is nor is he purely using racism as a conscious strategy.  It is a natural, instinctive melding of the two, his own deep  long-  held feelings that joined with his mouth that happened to give him the political wings to succeed.  The conclusions by Slate after  reviewing  all of the polls of 2016 Trump voters on the subject was: “Overt racists aren’t a decisive share of the electorate, but they’re a substantial part of the president’s coalition.”  His approval ratings hover around 39% so  there are those who are willing to ignore  or deny the charges of racism or who  are  offended but not enough to put bigotry at the top of their concerns list.  They will support him for other issues, taxation. entitlements and cultural  issues and reforms. The question is: how many of those who make up his base will stick with him in the future in spite of his racist remarks and  policy positions. The 2018  November Congressional elections will reveal the answer.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The inhumane side of immigration issues we ignore so easily

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News January 17, 2018

In the heated  partisan debate over DACA and/or comprehensive immigration reform, or President Trump's racist policies and comments about immigrants, it is so easy to ignore  the impact of political partisanship  on the lives and emotions of the young.  800,000 Dreamers' lives are on the line as anti-immigration ideologues call them criminals.   Those children brought to the US illegally had no intention to break the law; they are victims of the immigration system.  Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of holding DACA kids hostage to their preferred approach to immigration legislation. Democrats had  wanted DACA to be part of  a comprehensive law that includes a path to citizenship.  The GOP opposes  legalization of their status, calling attempts amnesty, ignoring the innocence of Dreamer's  intent and inferring they are  de facto guilty of intending to break the law.

 The President seems not to comprehend the meaning of a" clean bill " in his dialogue with legislators January 9 and by still  apparently  insisting Congress approve the Great Wall of Trump on the border with Mexico as a condition of providing any solution to the Dreamers'  jeopardy. FYI, Mr. President a clean bill for both building a wall and giving status to Dreamers means to stop holding kids  hostage to partisan political demands and campaign promises and  instead  to make those separate bills requiring separate votes of Congress. The Democrats are now prefer the "clean bill" approach, but have indicated they could compromise. In the meantime, a lower court Federal judge granted a temporary halt to the Trump administration's policy to scrap the protection of  Dreamers protected by an Obama memorandum, requiring them to follow a process.  There is hope yet.

In the meantime, let us not forget the inhumane side of our treatment of  undocumented children.  Rick  D. Bailey, a Denver attorney,  posted the following on his Facebook page January 4, and with his permission, his moving account serves as a reminder that we for the sake of politics are doing damage to young lives.
"Today I accompanied a teenage boy and his father to Immigration Court. I accompanied not as an attorney, but rather as a friend through the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC & Coloradans For Immigrant Rights) which provides, among many services, emotional support and presence to immigrants under extreme stress. All of the children scheduled for their initial hearings were first taken into a separate room (with the adults accompanying them) and advised of their rights by some very diligent attorneys from a wonderful local non-profit called Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network - RMIAN. (I don't know whether there are similar organizations for other Immigration Courts.) None of the children were represented by attorneys today, but there was a certain semblance of process given to them in that they were granted time to get an attorney (at their own expense). Many of these children will have good and valid arguments for visas and defenses against removal if they can get attorneys. Each of the children was required to come up to the defense table and be advised by the judge of her or his rights and answer questions. There was an interpreter and they had to wear headsets, as if it were Nuremberg. As I have reflected back on the day, I have become more and more angry. Why are we subjecting children to this? Although the judge was very kind, the sight of a five (5) year old girl and a seven (7) year old girl sitting at counsel table (without counsel) in a courtroom being asked questions by a judge was deeply disturbing. Even some of the children 14 or 17 were uncertain and I suspect it was deeply traumatic for all of them. After all, they are being charged with crimes and threatened with deportation. Is this what we want our country to be? Is this hammer of terror and trauma cloaked in a velvet glove of process what we are about as a nation of immigrants? Are these children criminals because they are undocumented? For more information on our treatment of undocumented children, read "Tell Me How it Ends -- An Essay in Forty Questions" by Valeria Luiselli."

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions: Valeria Luiselli, Jon ...

Sunday, January 7, 2018

GOP Congress joins President Trump to derail justice

A version of this was published by the Sky Hi News January 9-10, 2017

One of the most disturbing developments in the past several months is  that the Republican Congressional leadership has  reversed a prior hands off posture and joined forces with the White House to attack the credibility, and/or to divert attention from  special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into  the Trump campaign and his administration's role into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election .  Until then  most of those same GOP  Congresspeople had supported or tried  to act neutral or even praised Mueller and the FBI. The special counsel investigation was commissioned in the spring of 2017 after the firing of James Comey. The FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections began in mid 2016.

The GOP dominated   Congress  has  launched  their campaign apparently  coordinated with a similar White House strategy. .  Donald Trump kicked off the New Year with a tweet calling for investigations into a Hillary Clinton aide regarding emails passwords and  into the FBI,   he claimed was full of anti Trump agents, citing emails of one agent as proof..

The antidote to a president charged with  high crimes and misdemeanors  is impeachment. This is the power delegated to  Congress. It is  an unlikely action, since  both Houses are  controlled by the GOP with their members now fawning  with admiration  of Donald Trump after the passage of their unpopular tax reform agenda.   The only way to curb the Republican’s Congressional participation in any diversion or obstruction into the Mueller probe  is to change which party controls committee chairs and sets their agenda. That opportunity will come in November 2018 when one third of the Senate  seats and all House of Representative seats will be on the ballot.

Last week  Trump loyalist, Devin Nunes, (R-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee,  renewed his earlier demand the FBI and the Department of Justice  turn over the fruits of their investigation into a dossier authored by former UK spy  Christopher Steele. This could be seen as  tactics to  kill a messenger and  divert attention  from the core investigation into Trump campaign and administration’s Russian connections.. The FBI  first resisted,  but yielded to pressure from House Majority Leader Paul Ryan in a meeting the first week this January.  Nunes. also in October  had  launched an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s actions on Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation as the “real Russian connection investigation”, both  cases previously investigated and died for lack of evidence, but still  a red meat attention grabber for the Trump base.

Two Senate  Republicans,  Lindsey Graham and Chuck  Grassley,  last week referred a criminal accusation to the FBI,  claiming   Steele  presented contradictory dates he provided in testimony to them.  This impact of the action by the two senators is  to keep Steele from coming to the US to testify and  to distract public and investigative  attention from the fundamental  thrust of the Mueller investigation.  Grassley also has stonewalled  his prior promise to release  testimony of Steele’s boss  about who  commissioned   and oversaw Steele’s research project.   The outrage of the senators’ action is that their  only alleged criminal findings after months of hearings was to refer Steele, the whistle blower,  who had brought  the results of his investigations to the FBI’s attention in the first place. That dossier, Steele’s field notes, presented evidence that  Donald Trump had engaged  in questionable financial dealings  and sexual misconduct  with Russians   before he was a candidate and could have been compromised by Russians and subject to blackmail.. The  FBI then  in October 2016  had set about to verify his findings from separate sources, in addition to their already ongoing investigation. The results of those and other findings by Mueller and the FBI have not been released to the public.

Update January 9, 2018
Update: Tuesday, January 9, Democrats released the testimony of the company that hired Christopher Steele.…/sen-dianne-feinstein-unilaterally-re…
The GOP has tried to discredit the Steele dossier to show that it kicked off the
FBI investigation of the Trump campaign Russian connection. It was not. It began with the Australian Ambassador and the Australian government telling the FBI earlier in 2016 about a conversation with campaign staffer George Papadopoulis who had inside information of Russian possession of Democratic emails.…/donald-trump-russia-inquiry-g…

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The GOP 2017 wrecking ball continues its unpopular swing into 2018

After wrecking financial consumer protection by stopping class action suits against banks, giving away national lands and off shore drilling to oil/gas and damaging the environment for years, a tax reform bill that deprived 13 million of health insurance and mostly benefited business and wealthy interests, sabotaging Obamacare with exec order for small business to provide employees with near useless health insurance minus essential benefits, causing health insurance for everyone to increase 10%  more than it would anyway, ending net neutrality, and attempting to obstruct  the Mueller investigation into the Russian connection and their interference in the 2016 election, and busting the deficit meter, they announce an ambitious legislative agenda in 2018: .Above all, if the word "reform" is attached to anything, it means funding cuts; we should know that now from their attempt at health care reform, repealing without replacing Obamacare. Targets: cutting the social safety net, Medicaid and Medicare to pay for a bigger military button and increase the deficit more and to build the great wall of Trump to keep out immigrants. Let us see if any money goes to infrastructure, or if they only enable more toll roads... We will see DACA relief to believe it. Almost all of their 2017 accomplishments and their agenda have polled very unpopular with the majority of Americans. It looks like they are making hay on enacting their most ardent GOP desires before the blue wave drowns them in November 2018


Friday, January 5, 2018

Wolff's book, Fire and Fury

Wolff's "Fire and Fury" is the little boy in the crowd shouting the Emperor has no clothes...voicing what the rest of the crowd of loyalists to the Emperor dare not say what their eyes see.