Friday, May 25, 2018

Why Spygate became Liegate

This is  revision of an earlier posting on the subject:

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

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

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

The greatest enemy of democracy, ignorance

A refined and shortened version of the original posting was submitted to the newspaper for publication.
It was published in the Sky Hi News  June 26-27, 2018;

Steve Schmidt's reasons for quitting the Republican Party is the clearest and closest to my own beliefs.

Poll: 55% US thinks democracy getting weaker; fear authoritarianism.
"A majority of Americans, 55 percent, now labels American democracy as “weak,” and 50 percent said the nation is in “real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country.”

 It follows:

We have become a nation of slogans, but not of knowledge. Most Americans believe there is a "deep state" calling the shots in Washington, per recent polls. It is a slogan, but it is not reality.  Even one cabinet member  Donald Trump  appointed  is in a special  position to know. Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and former CIA director, said there is no such thing. Even Paul Ryan, House Majorit Leader agrees.  Constantly we hear  slogans repeating that  news that puts Trump in a bad light is "made up" or "fake", is  not to be believed. Sadly, opinion polls show such slogans are working.  How is that happening? Ignorance is the reason and it is  becoming the greatest danger to democracy in the Trump era.

Much of voters' vulnerability to believing  current slogans are the gospel truth  is because of ignorance of the fundamentals of how our government functions or the Constitutional  protections from demagogues  ruling by slogans, a technique used masterfully by Donald Trump.   The term "rule of law",instead of a rule by one person  who sees himself above the law, is a difficult concept to grasp. Nonetheless, "strong" leader appeals to many who want any change they want  to be effective, no matter whose rights are trampled or what Constitutional provisions are undermined or laws are ignored or meanings twisted. That yearning for a powerful leader to enact one group's  agenda  is the opposite of  the essence of democracy  that protects us from one man  rule and dictatorships.

For  Trump opponents  to make the argument that  Trump is the antithesis of democracy and a danger to it is not  very effective when  most Americans cannot name the three branches of government or  the responsiblity and ability of each branch to restrict abuses of  delegated powers by  the other two.. Most cannot name their rights protecting them from unfair governmental abuse of power contained in the First Amendment, including freedom of the press.  How can they be alarmed that such a fundamental right  is under attack by Trump, who charges all negative press is "fake", a slogan that has caught fire in his base of support?

There is plenty of evidence that  most Americans  are ignorant about  democratic fundamentals. If they do not now know  about them, how can they  care about any urgency to protect them? The Annenberg Foundation survey in 2017 found that
  • More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment;
  • Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government.
“Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. “These results emphasize the need for high-quality civics education in the schools and for press reporting that underscores the existence of constitutional protections.”
We are seeing the power of slogans  being played out in the investigation of the Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  That any findings of the probe that put Trump in a bad light  revealed to the public in the future are not to  believed  is because  a few FBI agents had  expressed a personal animosity toward Trump.  I wonder how many know that the independent investigation by the Inspector General  found that the personal bias of a few  did not shape the actions or findings of the FBI investigation into the Russian matter or into Clinton's emails? They may not realize that most of government's "deep state' are civil servants who were hired on merit and cannot be fired for lack of party loyalty and many have held jobs throughout  Democratic and GOP administrations. Most Americans do not even know the Mueller probe has already gotten indictments, pleas, and convictions related to Russian interference in the 2016 elections and believe it is indeed a politically motivated"  witch hunt", a slogan  term in itself.
While so many Americans have forgotten their civics lessons  they probably slept through anyway as boring , media focus is likewise to blame.  It has gotten itself lost in the weeds of sensational news and repeating slogans themselves. They have not used their powerful  pulpit to remind the public of long forgotten civics lessons and why our democracy has suceeded as it has for so long. This is a result of  what happens when either one half of  Americans  get all of their news from one TV station that only reports good news about Donald Trump and respins his spins about bad news and the other half  dwells on only the bad news that is one sensational revelation  of a scandal after another.  This country is in sore need of a good civics lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Abuse of power: another article of impeachment?

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

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

An update: Trump refuses to provide information about how he has  persoally profited during his tenure...another example of both abuse of power and thumbing his nose at the emoluments clause:

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

American democracy: why worry about it

Updated and revised: 7/16-20/2018  and 6/19

A version of this was published in the Sky-Hi News, July 25, 2018. 
1958-1959 I was spending my university junior year abroad in Berlin. It was a heady time for a US political science major wondering what did happen and why what was happening now was going so wrong and so right simultaneously. It was thirteen years after World WW II ended. I walked through the rubble and desolate stretches of bombed-out spaces  on both sides of the Brandenburg Gate. The Wall had not yet been built. It was a hands-on view as one form of fascism lay in ruins and the Soviets consolidated control of their conquered eastern sector.  I met a young medical student from Yugoslavia, then a communist country headed by a dictator Tito. We later married, and we were together for over the next 50 years until he passed away in 2015. He became a US citizen, active in civic affairs, with certificates and plaques hanging on our walls to attest how much he loved life in America, democracy, and the freedom to pursue his dreams. We visited Yugoslavia and his family when it began to loosen up beginning in 1972  and then on the average of every two years until 2015. I experienced it in their brutal Stalinist era, fear of a late night knock at the door, their period of more benign dictatorship with limited capitalism, and their pains of a war for independence to become a democratic  Croatia.
This is what I  have learned from these life experiences.  When people are fearful, confused by chaos out of their control, feel victimized or losing economic and political power they once had, communism and fascism find fertile ground. There is a human streak longing to be part of the ruling group (some call that tribalism or racism) and to point blame so they can put down the offenders and rationalize abuses of democratic institutions to gain and maintain absolute power. At the same time, those feeling wronged look for a leader to lead them from the wilderness.   These totalitarian dictators like Hitler and Mussolini seized the reins of government by manipulating existing democracies. They then began consolidating power, little by little,  often under the public' radar or with majority’s approval. The fascists gained control of media by destroying the opposition press. They demanded total loyalty to them personally instead of to the rule of law  Theirs were the only truth and facts.

.I would wish none of this on anyone, but it is beginning again. Dictators and autocrats like Putin of Russia and Erdogan of Turkey cloak themselves with words and sham elections which are neither free nor do they allow serious opposition, jailing or killing them or denying them access to media. Donald . Trump admires both of them publicly and is trying to copy their methods. Trump is promoting TV and other media outlets that suppress negative news and data, calling critics "enemies of the people", .dishonest their news 'fake".  His racist oratory gins up fear and loathing of immigrants with lies about their crime rate,   increases in migrant border crossings, and the cost to the treasury which, if based on his own government's data, are the exact opposite of his rhetoric.  Like modern autocrats, he contends he can act above the law, claiming he cannot be prosecuted for certain actions, and he has the power to pardon himself and his administration’s loyalists. 
Free and secure elections are the foundation of American democracy. Destroy our faith in their outcome, and we have dealt our democracy a fundamental blow.   Russian meddling in 2016 set about to do just that  While there is no provable evidence Russians changed the 2016 election's outcome, Special Counsel Robert  Mueller documented in his recent indictments  that  Russians  have demonstrated they have the capability to  penetrate our election systems to wreak havoc on the outcome .and to  turn elections into shams we cannot trust. 

 So why am I worried about American democracy's future?  So many do not care.  Per a July 19, CBS poll found 61% of Republicans are little or not at all concerned about Russian election meddling, while  Trump maintains  44% job approval by all voters polled,  according to a YouGov/Economist poll  July 15-17. The GOP House just voted to turn down funding state elections systems to enhance their cybersecurity defense measures. Democracy is fragile, and its survival depends upon the strong support of the governed. That support is teetering on the edge in a closely divided nation. 

  Last week GOP House members even refused to fund state election systems' enhanced cyber security, claiming voter ID laws would keep Russians out.  Voter ID has nothing to do with the control Russia can have over your vote. Stupid is as stupid does.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Trump: the economic unpopulist demagogue.

From the Cambridge English Dictionary:  “Political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want.” Trump is a master of  cultural populism and  he is a skilled demagogue. Merriam Webster defines a demagogue as  "a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power". ,

 There are different  kinds of populism: one is  cultural and the other is economic.  Donald Trump is an  economic unpopulist in spite his  promises made in  demagogic tones with false claims.  When it comes to ordinary people living on a budget, pocket book issues  he has failed to deliver some  promised goods and worse, hurt them.They may think the economy is OK now, but they are beginning to understand, instead of improving their lot, wages have not increased much,  the  tax cut promise was mostly hot air,  and health  care costs are  already  the top of voter concerns, registering  in polls above any other major issues.

When it comes to false claims, Trump makes so many of them, the list compiled by Pulitzer Prize winning  Fact Checker, has pages devoted to it at. 

Give Trump credit. He is a  bonafide cultural populist and a demagogue that makes use of popular prejudices.  He certainly has given his heavily  white, male  and evangelical Christian base what they wanted to hear about people of color or “others” or  turning back   policies of  cultural liberals.  Painting unauthorized immigrants in  broad derogatory  brushes with “ Mexicans are rapists and criminals”and  “animals”, “build the wall”,  are  chants guaranteed to get roars from his crowd  and echos  from his one-sided media outlets echoing and unquestioning  his hateful speech.  His evangelical Christian base cheers planned executive orders denying federal funding to clinics referring patients to abortion providers and reducing   women’s  access  and funding  for  affordable STD and cancer screenings,  and contraception.  He has stonewalled any attempt to reduce active shooter carnage to the delight of 2nd amendment absolutists.He is nominating judicial  appointees  that would reduce  women’s  access  to  affordable  safe, legal  abortion services.  

Economic populism is another story.   Most Americans  are  feeling little increase  or  none at all in their take home pay. Some  realize the real winners were the already rich.   The trend to full employment long in the making before he arrived on the scene may be realized, but wage increases are anemic. Threats of increasing some tariffs  to help the rust belt have already backfired on agriculture heartland’s exports, forcing reconsideration. . Economic growth  rate has been behind the record of his predecessors who had  also dealt with major downturns.  
 While Trump claims he "giveth" to the middle class, Trump also "taketh away". Trump’s support of GOP efforts to  repeal and replace Obamacare  with better insurance not only failed ,he  has  succeeded in only  making it  more expensive or near useless . In the name of consumer choice, Trump signed laws that  eliminated  the individual mandate, resulting in leaving the expensive to treat, ill and older people,  paying  into  the insurance pool . Alternative coverage newly permitted  risks financial ruin  with their  high deductibles, and limited or   no benefits to cover maternity, mental health, preexisting conditions, or catastrophic medical bill coverage.. The numbers covered by health insurance decreased by 3.2 million in one year and projections are that eventually 13 million will lose coverage.

  Trump’s department of education has made it more difficult to get  more student loan forgiveness.   The agency charged with handling  complaints about financial services, mortgage lenders, and banks , and acting on their abuses  is being run by a director hostile to its mission of protecting consumers, curtailing public reports and starving it.. The Environmental Protection Agency has become the Environmental Destruction Agency, promoting dirtier air and polluted water,  making it  easier for  mining waste dumping in streams and  rolling back automobile clean air standards. 

 The cultural populists did not ask for this, but this hit to everyone’s pocket books,  less consumer/environmental  protection ,  poorer health  and more expensive insurance,  is what we all get  in return.

 In a poll by Politico and Morning Consult, just 25 percent of registered voters said they’d noticed their take-home pay increase as a result of the legislation. Another 51 percent said they hadn’t noticed a pay bump, and another 24 percent said they didn’t know or weren’t sure.

Trump and the GOP Congress are who Madison warned us about

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, June 5, 2018

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

What we are witnessing now is the very thing  founding father Madison warned our new country about.  The writers of our constitution divided the power centers of government into three, executive, legislative, and judicial, each with a check  on the other. Madison warned there was a way to undermine these checks and balances. What was not yet formed when he wrote this were political parties, but he described them as “accumulation of all powers in ...the same hands”, " of many or a few."  The "few" today is one party, the Republicans, in control of all three branches of government with members unwilling to check actions of the president. Worse, they have taken advantage of their party’s control  to protect the President , actively attacking  the credibility  of the investigators and their findings, and obstructing  the investigation into  Russian meddling. They are knocking the props out of our three legged  stool of checks and balances, and separation of powers.. 

Donald Trump's  defense is that the FBI is a "deep state" full of Obama people out to get him just as they were in the 2016 election. That is worthy of a belly laugh, since while the FBI was keeping secret their investigation into Trump during the campaign, Comey  twice announced to public they had Clinton and her emails under investigation , which played into her defeat, causing her  polls to crash each time. Furthermore,   every major player on the FBI, Mueller probe, and  judges approving surveillance warrants,  are also registered Republicans. 

The GOP dominated Congress is a profile in cowardice.  GOP congress members  fear that the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller would damage  their control of Congress and loss of the White House in 2020, or cause  early removal of the president.  Mueller is investigating whether the President or members of his close circle conspired or  wanted to coordinate activities with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election on Donald Trump’s behalf as well as whether he or his circle  obstructed justice, and/or  engaged in financial crimes.

The GOP Congress  has done more than just nothing. They have become  Trump's active partners in his attempt to obstruct   Mueller's criminal  investigation of Trump, a subject of the investigation,  by demanding investigations of the investigators and  unmasking of FBI informants, Now  Mueller's boss, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is  under a threat of  firing,  or contempt of Congress unless evidence Mueller found to date be turned over to Trump and the GOP to help with  Trump's self serving defense . Rosenstein agreed to brief them but only GOP Congress people were invited, excluding Democrats., That makes this so ultra partisan and deck stacking Trump supportive, it  is more than making a  joke  of the House  Intelligence Committee's bi partisan oversight purpose for which it was established,  or  violating the established  rules of discovery in a criminal case. It is clearly obstruction of justice by the President for his own benefit, and  of GOP Congresspeople obstructing justice as well.. 

The  House Intelligence Committee headed by a GOP Trump loyalist, Rep. Devin Nunes, cut short their investigation, refused to call key witnesses, and announced there was no there, there. A Senate committee  showed more spunk, concluding  there was some “there there”, that Russians did interfere in the 2016 elections to support Trump. Duh. Their findings were issued after the text of Mueller's  indictments of thirteen Russians provided the evidence and public release of thousands of Facebook ads   engineered and paid for by Russians ,  and after a report issued  by US intelligence agencies in January 2017.

 In the meantime, the GOP  Senate is attempting to control  an independent judiciary for future years,  fast tracking approval of nominees to 140  lifetime positions as judges in federal courts who  pass GOP ideological public policy litmus tests instead of  showing a devotion to interpretations  based on independent judgment and legal precedent. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Memorial Day is also a time to remember what those who died were defending

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, May 21-23, 2018

On Memorial Day  May 28 we will specially honor and remember the nearly million and a half in the military who died in wars to keep us from foreign control and the liberty  to pursue life and happiness. At the same time we should be asking ourselves do enough of us even care about protecting our freedoms anymore?
Our founders  put protections of our civil and human rights and freedoms  in the amendments to the Constitution. Not all of those freedoms are absolute and their meanings and limits  have been shaped by an independent judiciary, but they are still fundamental to the freedoms we enjoy for which so many have died.
Nonetheless, the U.S. ranks 45  of 180 countries based on press freedom, survey conducted by the non profit Reporters Without Borders.“ A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people,’ ...has attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routinely uses the term ‘fake news’in retaliation for critical reporting, and has called for revoking certain media outlets’ broadcasting licenses.” Update: June 10, 2018: Homeland Security is now compiling lists and data bases of journalists and influencers. To what use will that information be put is the question.

We have had  our civil wars, our slavery, our abuses of rights, but we have  had made progress to improve the implementation of our ideals. No longer.   Human Rights Watch, a non profit watchdog group, has released their 2018 report: “Across a range of issues in 2017, the US moved backward on human rights. Trump has targeted refugees and immigrants, calling them criminals and security threats; emboldened racist politics by equivocating on white nationalism; and consistently championed anti-Muslim ideas and policies…. and (undermining) police accountability for abuse…..”
Voter laws are being passed locally that make it more difficult  for minorities to vote by restricting voting times and motor voter registration laws, and  requiring extra effort and expenses to obtain photo IDs. These suppression measures were implemented  deceptively to protect us from virtually non-existent fraud.
The GOP dominated  Senate is fast tracking the process  to fill federal judicial seat vacancies  with ideologues passing litmus tests preferred over nominees who support judicial precedent and who pass peer professionals’ standards .  This will impact the current interpretation of the meaning of freedom for years, from Roe v Wade to the right refuse to serve certain customers on religious grounds to shrinking governmental protections of the environment, worker safety, and health care.
One freedom that our forefathers treasured was protection  from foreign control . Our founders never imagined the reach to millions on social media by Russian bots and advertising  to help Donald Trump win, as the bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded and reported May 16, 2018, and as our intelligence concluded in January 2017. Added May 23, 2018: Former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, concludes Russian meddling elected Donald Trump.

The control the United States by bribery or personal gain by officials was so feared they put the emolument clause in the Constitution itself. There is a stench in the air that Trump has violated that clause. On May 16, we learned the Trump business organization from which Trump still benefits is  entangled in China financing a Trump Indonesian hotel just as US sanctions were lifted on a Chinese telecom already deemed a threat to US security. Another bombshell May 16 was learning Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer,  manages a consulting company account that appears to have millions coming into it, including foreign money. Suspicions are , that money could be seen as bribery to get access to the President on issues coming before the new administration, yet where finding the money went and who got it  is required to separate the crime from the slime.

Lee Greenwood’s great lyric which  captures the meaning of Memorial Day the best:
“And I'm proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free
And I won't forget the ones who died who gave that right to me
And I'll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today
Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land, God Bless the USA.”

"Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations. We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.  We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence."