Friday, December 28, 2018

Trump's real suckers and the sucker punched

Donald Trump visiting the  troops over Christmas proclaimed a memorable line which will haunt him for years.   " We are no longer  the suckers of  the world." he declared to justify an order to  withdraw US troops from Syria. The real suckers  are those who believe that Trump's foreign policy is putting America First, when in reality it is making our adversaries stronger.  In tweeting the orders, he  blind sided and  sucker punched his own advisers who had tried to refrain  him from taking such a move..

The tweet was an abrupt  reversal of a prior policy and a slap in the face to his own national security advisers . In  their eyes withdrawal hurt  American national security interests and it gave a boost to the power of US adversaries, Russia and Iran, allowing them to increase their influence in the region at USA's  expense. The US national security advisers believed our effective allies, the Kurds, could not carry on  the fight without US air and US special forces' support. ISIS  may have lost the bulk of the territory they once controlled, but they were not defeated. They still had the knowhow and an appealing  ideology waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge.

 Trump's tweeted orders resulted in the exit from his administration of those who were considered the adults in the room and  who were keeping America safe from some of his worst impulses. Trump made the spur of the moment decision to withdraw from Syira in the middle of a telephone conversation with the President of Turkey,  Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a dictator Trump  admires. Turkey views the US allies, the Kurds, as anti-Turk terrorists and a threat to their national security. Trump never bothered to give a heads up to the Secretary of Defense General James Mattis or the diplomat coordinating our allies' participation. Both Mattis and the diplomat quit.  Their advice was ignored and they could not in good conscience follow those orders.

Trump's timing and method of reversing policy may have been impulsive, but it should not have been a surprise. It was consistent with his  long held views. Trump's  policy wishes dated to his  campaign days. He often stated  foreign policy preferences were  to let Russia and Syria's President Assad take over the conflict.  Trump has  frequently indicated he was willing to lift sanctions and overlook Russia’s take over the Crimea. Weakening  NATO, a thorn in Russia's side, has also been Trump's goal. We do not know if Trump himself conspired with the Russians  to help him win in 2016.  That awaits Mueller's Special Counsel report. However, Mueller's  court filings reveal a Russia who took us for  suckers  by infiltrating , using and manipulating our media to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential campaign in order to elect a Russia friendly Trump.

Trump had always insisted  throughout the campaign and his presidency that the US has been taken for suckers for fighting for our allies who were unwilling to pay US for its assistance. He called that campaign plank “America First”. That helping allies  was in US national security interests was never a concept he understood or bought into. That it was better to fight our adversaries abroad instead of in the homeland did not concern him.  This isolationist viewpoint has surfaced before in our history. How did that work out?, These latter day American Firsters  believe isolationism will keep the US free of foreign control over our country. The lessons of post World War I exposed  the failure of isolationism, an American First movement that refused to provide the will or power to stop Hitler's rise.  Intentionally ignoring the threat of Japan contributed to the  Pearl Harbor surprise. would vote for Hillary Clinton.


Monday, December 24, 2018

One sided media and a deeply divided nation

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News  December 26-27, 2018

Both media and American politics are divided as never before. I am forever amazed with how those who do not have the same reactions to politics as I do receive a whole different take on news, or do not hear the same stories reported.  No wonder we are so dug in with our political divisions when we find ourselves asking “where in the world did that dumb idea come from; I never heard that story. “There is a good reason. What stories each news outlet chooses to report or how talking heads back up the opinion of the star of the talk show can be quite different depending on which news channels we view.  With the advent of cable and internet, we have become one sided because of the ease of a click to seek out our media that is in our comfort zone, undisturbed by facts or arguments to the contrary.

  There is a relationship between the nature of a nation that is increasingly sharply divided politically and a blurring of the lines between opinion and hard news. Newspapers have a tradition of keeping the two separated and opinion labeled as such. Particularly guilty of confusing the two are TV cable news channels that mix hard and breaking news with commentary based upon editorial political biases, increasing the political sharp divide as each side makes interpretations and reporting news and issue priorities that cater to their audience’s comfort zones.  It takes effort to check out various viewpoints since rarely do both sides appear simultaneously on the same page in the same publication or on the same TV screen. 
Who can we blame for this? To quote my favorite philosopher, Pogo, “we have met the enemy and it is us” and now we have a variety of media that has provided the method to take advantage of us by putting in our hands a click and a remote.  It is only human to want to get news in forms that are easy, fast, and comfortable to digest.
 We like to think we are objective and open minded, but a recent survey found that the reality is most of us are not per a recent poll.
“Most Americans claim to rely on a mix of liberal and conservative news sources, but one in four admit to getting news from only one perspective. .Forty-six percent of U.S. adults claim to have firm views that rarely change. Americans commonly share news stories with others — primarily with like-minded people.”
The antidote?  Make the effort to hear and read more than one medium outlet even if it raises your blood pressure. Thanks to freedom of the press there is a large marketplace of media for you to tap. Use your click and remote if you no longer hold a newspaper or a magazine in your hands.

Monday, December 17, 2018

GOP's lump of coal in Christmas stockings: a law suit to end Obamacare

GOP’s lump of coal in Christmas stockings: a lawsuit to end Obamacare
A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News 12 18-19 2018
Last week a Texas federal judge ruled that Obamacare was unconstitutional.  67,000 in Colorado are now  able to afford quality health insurance and get their coverage through the state exchange including  Medicaid expansion.   About a third of Americans have pre-existing conditions that  must be covered by their insurance thanks to Obamacare. What now?  It will take months if not years for this suit to be appealed and to make it to the Supreme Court. Given the GOP attempt to stack the lower federal courts and  the Supreme Court with their loyalists, who knows what the ultimate outcome will be, but in the short term, Obamacare ( the Affordable Care Act,  ACA) will be the operative  health care plan. The forty seats gained by the Democrats in the US House of Representatives in the midterms  will  give them a strong majority in the next two years to come up with a  plan, either a version of Medicare for All or a repair and revision of the ACA,  and immediate protection of the ACA from the GOP suit. Whatever the House Democrats pass will likely be rejected by the GOP Senate which increased their majority by a couple of seats in the November  midterms.
This suit  has been in the works for some time before the midterms. It was a scheme hatched by the GOP that had failed to get Congress to do their dirty work,  thanks to Sen. John McCain’s thumbs down vote on repealing the ACA, and to get it done through the courts instead. Filing the suit were twenty  GOP state attorneys general, some who later lost their party’s seats over the ACA suit support in November.
The political fallout in 2020 will put the GOP on the defensive no matter who their candidate may be. The GOP will be far more at risk of controlling both houses of Congress in 2020  than they did in November. They  will have many more Senate seats in purple and blue states up for election than they did in 2018. The GOP seems not to have learned a lesson in 2018 midterms when the issue of their hostility to  coverage of pre-existing conditions and continuation of Obamacare and their failure to   provide a replacement were a major issues in flipping many of the state and House races blue. It was the top public policy issue on voters’ minds by all polls.
 If the GOP suit makes it through appeals and the Supreme Court, coverage of pre-existing conditions, affordable insurance premiums for 20 million people, removing caps on coverage, requiring young adults to be covered, Medicaid expansion to the near poor, coverage of mental health and substance abuse, and more, would be dead. In pre-Obama care insurance coverage, pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition and insurance often charged more for women’s health insurance. The GOP began gathering support for the suit when Obamacare was younger and public opinion swallowed their fear tactics that there would be death panels and that they could not choose their doctors or keep them.  With personal experience  they appreciated the benefits, affordability and did have more  choice of doctors than they thought they would have so public  opinion shifted to majority approval of Obamacare and over 60% approval of  each if the major  separate protections the ACA provided. They saw repeal of Obamacare was worse for their pocket books than having Obamacare warts and all.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Impeachment? Not so fast

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News Dec. 11-12, 2018

Immediately last Friday after Michael Cohen’s sentencing memo was filed, President Trump crowed he was cleared and the opposition media claimed there were grounds for impeachment because the President was in effect an unindicted co-conspirator of a crime, which was closer to reality. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s court filings regarding Paul Manafort were either redacted or sealed, revealing little.

Often cited are precedents set by both the impeachment of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.   Neither Nixon nor Clinton was found guilty or was removed from office by Congressional votes. A simple majority in the House can vote to impeach,  but  two-thirds of the Senate must  agree to find him guilty and remove him from office.

 Impeachment is not so much a matter of law  as it is a political action. Voters’ opinions can  give members of Congress political backbones: Clinton’s public  job approval ratings polled  during the impeachment/trial remained over 70% and 66% were against removing him from office over the issue of lying and coverup of sexual misconduct.   Nixon, after release of the tapes, dropped from winning the prior election to  a 31%  job approval with 43% opposing removal from office.  During Nixon’s threatened impeachment, Democrats , the opposition party, controlled both House and Senate with significant majorities. Republican Nixon  resigned before the House could vote  to impeach because tapes were made public that confirmed his guilt. Like Nixon, Clinton's  opposition party, Republicans,  controlled both the Senate and the House though the vote even in the GOP controlled Senate fell short of the two thirds needed and he was acquitted. In Donald Trump's case, the House will be in the hands of Democrats ; the Senate's majority party is Trump's.

The current  public mood  should give the GOP shudders. It is similar to Nixon’s. The key public voter question is whether the actions of the President as charged by Congress  justifies his removal from office , which is the end result of a Senate conviction.  Trump’s  current job approval is around 40% with 42% opposed to his removal from office per a June 2018 poll.  This is  before we know much of what  Special Counsel Robert Mueller has found.

 That Democrats gained a decisive majority in the House of Representatives in  November means they have the simple majority  of votes  needed to impeach Trump  without any GOP help  At this moment it is a debatable intra party question of whether impeachment is an effective political strategy, distracting from promoting their public policy  agenda.  GOP control of the Senate would block removal of the president  at this time in any case. 

So far, public knowledge of facts implicating Trump is thin. Recently filed  court documents do indicate  business financial gain could have been his motivation to commit crimes of conspiracy/collusion and obstruction of justice.  The closest to fingering Donald Trump himself came  last week in the Michael Cohen case filings in which Cohen claimed he was instructed by the President  to break campaign finance  laws.  That  the President intended  to pay for silence of women with whom he had affairs was to protect family peace, not campaign purposes as Cohen claims, could be a reasonable  defense.   Whether the public would think lying and coverup of sexual misdeeds  alone justifies  removing  him from office is  very questionable.    It makes sense to wait for Mueller’s report and findings of Democratic dominated House  committees.
Footnotes: On Friday, December 7, 2018  the Southern District of New York's sentencing memo regarding Michael Cohen repeated the charge that Cohen committed a crime by arranging a method to pay off two women who knew of Trump's immoral and unfaithful conduct  for the principal purpose  that they would remain silent during the campaign. Significantly, the SDNY filing said that Cohen committed the crime under the direction of the president.  This could be very damning for the president, though he cannot be indicted for doing it. Any punishment would have to be through the impeachment process. Trump claimed immediately he was "totally cleared". .  The SDNY filings regarding Cohen said that he had been helpful, but not fully. The Mueller fillings said Coehn had been helpful on  the Russian conncection and that Cohen's jail term could be served at the same time as the judge ruled in the SDNY case.
Both the Clinton impeachment case and the Michael Cohen/Trump charges involved lying and covering up sexual misconduct.  Some Republicans voted not to convict Clinton, and all Democrats stood by their man.  Later public opinion polls showed 57% the public did not want Clinton to lose his job over the issue and they considered the impeachment harmful to the country (Gallup via Wikipedia summary)
The Mueller filings regarding Manafort pointed to lies  to the Special Counsel about his coordination with the White  House in 2018 and lies about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, his associate, who had ties with Russian military intelligence, the DNC hackers.

Also see the prior blog posting 12/3/2018. The tangled web of Trump-Russian deceit.

If sexual misconduct, lying and coverup did not reach the "time does not fit the crime" in the Cllinton case , i.e. the offense was not the reason for the Senate to convict because it was not serious enough and the administration's ability to conduct business (high job approval rating), then the "high crimes" needed to be something worse.  Worse could be  treason, bribery and a serious high crime...definition is up to the House to say what it is. What would be "high" enough to warrant a Senate conviction?  Look for  proof beyond reasonable doubt of treason  (collusion, conspire) to work against US, bribery..a tit for tat like: Russia will help Trump win if he gets sanctions against Russians lifted; money lauundering, emoluments clause violations, tax evasion, and whatever else the House defines.   Another nagging problem is can a President be impeached for what he did before he took office?  The other problem: the DOJ has its own rules that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime, but nothing in the Constitution forbids this. If the offenses took place before the President was sworn in, he could be indicted after he left office and prosecuted, though. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

The tangled web of Russian-Trump deceit

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

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive.” per Walter Scott

So what if Donald Trump lied about his Trump Tower Moscow  negotiations while he was running for the presidency. He had claimed many times  that he had “nothing to do with Russia. I never did”.  Last week after his personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty  to lying to Congress about Trump's financial interests in Russia,  Trump changed his tune to” it was no crime and there was no deal. “ There will be many who take Trump  at his word  and leave it at that.  So long as he was not lying under oath to law enforcement , he has a point. However, he has lied to voters during and after the 2016 campaign, and American foreign policy was shaped to be in sync with Russia in ways that would be harmful the US allies and the Atlantic alliance. He created a web of wilful liars under oath and in public  to support  the myth of his lack of conflict of  financial interests in Russia since Trump’s puzzling  “bromance”  with Russia and Putin  had raised many eye brows.

Donald Trump had often advocated weakening NATO throughout 2015-2016 and even in his presidency.  NATO expansion to former Soviet satellites was  a thorn in the side of Russian national interests.  Trump’s fuming about NATO members not contributing enough was his public rationale but the weakening of NATO served both Putin’s national security designs and Trump’s continuing strategy to butter up Putin. Trump also advocated a softer policy toward Russia's grab of the Crimea and loosening sanctions imposed to punish Russia as far back as 2015. Why such a departure from traditional US foreign policy? Did Trump have undisclosed financial ties with Russia? Trump had vigorously denied that.   Did the Russians have something more  on him than just an alleged  carnal Moscow night ? Did the Russians see a Trump’s presidency as an unwitting asset to their national interests, motivating their interference in the 2016 campaign?

We do not have to wait for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to present his final report to learn about the web of  deceit or to get an understanding of what could have motivated Trump's Russia romance. Mueller's court filing documents regarding  Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Mike Flynn, and others contain much information. Mueller's indictments documents  also exposed in detail  methods Russia used in their attempt to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

The timing of the negotiations to build and finance the Moscow Trump Tower, as disclosed in the Cohen related court documents, coincided with Donald Trump’s  pronouncements as he was campaigning for president with  words and policies that favored Russia. Trump did have business interests in Russia  well into his status as presumptive GOP nominee.  and the Cohen guilty plea court filings  exposed Trump  as lying  to the American people about it. Special Counsel Robert Mueller signed off on the documents charging Cohen  with  lying to Congress for falsely claiming the Trump Tower deal was dead in January 2016 when  emails showed Cohen and Trump were actually  in communication with one another and  Cohen was still pursuing the deal  with Kremlin official Dmitri Peskov until  June 14, 2016 when Trump was already his party's presumed nominee.

  Key to the Moscow tower deal was getting financing from a certain Russian bank. The bank , other banks, and oligarchs were sanctioned by the U.S Congress to punish Russia for grabbing  Crimea  and  the sanctions needed to be lifted if the project was to be funded.  The deal was called off on June 14,  2016.  In the transition period Trump’s National Security adviser Mike Flynn was in secret communication with Russian ambassador  about the sanctions.  Flynn pleaded guilty to charges he lied to the FBI about it  and he  flipped to become  a witness for Mueller's probe. Sentencing is this month .

 In March 2016, Paul Manafort joined the campaign as a “volunteer” and in June rose to campaign chair. Manafort’s prior gig as  political consultant was the former pro Russian leader of Ukraine who opposed closer ties to the West.  During Manfort's campaign activities, Trump's polcies favoring Russia became more focused and specific. Manafort was charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller .faced trial in August 2018, and was found guilty of  bank and tax fraud . In September  he  pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the US and attempts to tamper with witnesses.  He violated his plea deal to be Mueller's  witness  in the Russian investigation and is now facing sentencing. He already sits in the blog posted dated July 31, 2018: Did Manafort's participation in the Trump campaign shape Donald Trump's views on foreign policy?