Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trump's Russian Ties Getting Tighter by the Day

Well, that didn't take long. I'm now writing my first stand alone critique of the Trump administration.

Just 25 days into the Trump administration, a cabinet member has resigned in disgrace. General Michael Flynn, whose son was fired from the transition team for pushing the Comet Ping Pong PizzaGate conspiracy among other fake news stories, has resigned.

General Flynn, while still a private citizen, called a Russian official the day before President Obama levied sanctions against Russia for their interference in our elections. It's illegal for private citizens to communicate with foreign governments in this way. However, conviction for such a crime is extremely uncommon.

As we might expect from this administration, which has demonstrated zero integrity, Trump and his surrogates took to the airwaves to defend Mike Flynn from the accusations that his calls were inappropriate. Flynn claimed not to have discussed the sanctions with the Russian ambassador. Even Vice President Mike Pence went on record to state that Mike Flynn had not discussed the sanctions.

Of course, that was not true. Mike Flynn did discuss the sanctions. Either he did not inform Pence or the administration knew he spoke about the sanctions and decided to lie to cover for him. My suspicion is the former. I don't think Pence knowingly lied for Flynn. I think Flynn was not forthright with Pence (who knows about other members of the administration) and Pence ended up embarrassed.

Remember Sally Yates? If you don't, it's not surprising, because the administration's still behaving like a 5 year old on a sugar high in a room full of musical instruments. Sally Yates was the acting attorney general who was fired by Trump on January 30th (16 days ago) for refusing to enforce his now deemed illegal Muslim Ban executive order.

Turns out Sally Yates, who emerged as the first hero of the Trump Resistance, warned the White House that Mike Flynn may have been compromised by the Russians. When did she do this? Sometime between January 23rd (23 days ago), when she finally got James Comey to agree to informing Trump, and January 30th, when she was fired.

So the White House new for more than 2 weeks that Flynn may have been compromised by the Russians due to a series of communications with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and transition. And yet Flynn was still in top secret briefings until ... yesterday.

Remember Paul Manafort? He was the Trump campaign chairman who resigned on August 19, 2016. Why? Turns out he failed to disclose that he was working as a foreign agent, covertly lobbying to sway American favorability for the pro-Russian Ukrainian government. But wait there's more, Manafort's name appeared in secret ledger of recipients of cash paid by the same Ukrainian government. How much was he paid? $12.7 million.

While we don't yet know the depth or extent of Trump's Russian ties, this is not going to end well. For any of us.

Until next time I remain, a concerned citizen.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Stars and Stripes in Distress: week 3

Day 16 (Saturday, February 4, 2017): Donald J. Trump went to Florida for the weekend while his aids continued to try to get their travel ban reinstated, but the news of the day probably came from Saturday Night Live, who cast Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer in an incredibly hilarious send-up of the administration's press briefings. This administration has certainly made SNL relevant (and funny) again. 

After midnight, early Sunday morning, a federal judge denied the request to reinstate the travel ban. Trump, of course, took to twitter to criticize the judge. Par for the course.

Day 17 (Sunday, February 5, 2017): Trump goes on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor for a pre-Super Bowl interview.  He inexplicably makes a statement suggesting he considers America and Russia to have moral equivalence in how we function as countries. This after Bill O'Reilly says, "Putin's a killer." Trump replies, "What do you think? Our country's so innocent?" Leaving aside the mysterious deaths of political opponents and journalists, which may not be able to be tied back to Putin himself, the Russian military is currently engaged in conflicts with neighboring countries for no reason and is adding Syria's Assad in killing his own people. Add to that the fact that Russia is an unapologetic autocracy with corruption from top to bottom and just decriminalized some forms of domestic violence and you have a country with such moral degradation that it's hard to imagine any American president considering us equivalent to them. Shameful.

Day 18 (Monday, February 6, 2017): During his morning toilet twittering, Donald Trump claims "all negative polls are fake news" - do you have to have any more evidence of this man's ego? That's just such an absurd claim, I'm not going to comment further. 

More troublingly, later in the day, while visiting Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Trump claimed the media was intentionally not covering terrorist attacks. The White House later released a laundry list of 78 terrorist attacks by Islamic radicals (with the words attack/attacker misspelled a cumulative 22 times as attak/attaker), claiming these were not reported by the American media and as for the media "they have their reasons" for not reporting these attacks. Many of the attacks had extensive media coverage worldwide and of the 78, fact checking organizations were able to find national mainstream media reporting on 76 of them. The two that were not reported by US media were non-fatal (one had zero injuries) and both occurred in Africa. This continued assault on the media is just wrong on so many levels. Reporters put their lives on the lines in conflict zones around the world to get these stories and Trump has the gall to claim they're being covered up.

Day 19 (Tuesday, February 7, 2017):  Betsy DeVos, a billionaire GOP donor, was confirmed for Secretary of Education by the Senate. A 50:50 tie was broken by VP Mike Pence, ensuring the installation of the least qualified cabinet appointee in modern American history. Betsy DeVos, now in charge of our public school education system, never attended public school, did not send any of her children to public school, and has been a strong advocate for "school vouchers" and "charter schools", which are dog-whistles for segregation and allowing failing urban schools in poor communities to continue failing while well-to-do suburban children use state dollars to go where they like. Only 2 GOP senators, both considered moderate (and both female), voted against DeVos.

News came out that Melania Trump was suing the UK's Daily Mail for libel over a story that suggested she may have been an escort at one time. She claimed that this story put at risk her opportunities to make substantial profits in her role as first lady. This just goes to show, once again, that the Trump family is first and  foremost interested in personal gain. Shockingly un-First Lady-like. She also settled a claim against a blogger ... yes a blogger ... for an apology and a "substantial sum", which for a blogger is probably around $38. 

News also came out on Tuesday that Trump's Labor Secretary nominee, Andrew Pudzer, employed an illegal immigrant for a number of years. Back during the Clinton and Bush years, this was cause for disqualification. In the Trump administration, that should be a "go to jail" offense. Which means we can fully expect Pudzer to be confirmed by this GOP Senate that really can't be bothered with going against the president at these early stages.

Late Tuesday night, during confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Senator Elizabeth Warren for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, wife of MLK, on the floor of the Senate, because Mrs. King used harsh language about Mr. Sessions history of racism. The Senate has a quaint rule that is quite civil in that Senators cannot impugn the character of other Senators. However, Elizabeth Warren was reading the letter from a civil rights hero, not sharing her own opinion. This backfired on the GOP leadership as "She persisted" became an instant battlecry for the feminist movement and Elizabeth Warren's private reading of the letter in the Senate hallway was watched millions of times on YouTube by mid-day Wednesday.

Day 20 (Wednesday, February 8, 2017): Sticking with the self-enrichment theme of the Trump family, Donald tweeted angrily at Nordstrom's for dropping his daughter, Ivanka's, line of luxury goods. Once again, just as he's done with other private firm, Trump has criticized a private firm for making a business decision. Nordstrom later cited dropping sales figures and revealed that Ivanka Trump has been aware of the decision for some time. This time it appears not to have damaged the brand like it did when he tweeted about Boeing. Nordstrom's stocks were up at the end of trading Wednesday. There doesn't seem to be much understanding among the Trump family that Donald's bullying and bile is not going to make most people want to buy their stuff. By all accounts Ivanka is a lovely human being, but her father is not winning her many fans these days. 

Day 21 (Thursday, February 9, 2017): Congratulations, we've made it to 3 weeks without a nuclear winter. In fact, Thursday may have been the first time we saw signs that the courts may keep Donald Trump in check as the 9th district court in Seattle, Washington, made the injunction against the travel ban permanent. This will, of course, be appealed to the Supreme Court, but in the meantime the Trump administration is now being encouraged by other Republicans to go back to the drawing board and devise an immigration policy that will comply with constitutional rigor. Trump and his supporters, of course, went apoplectic at judicial independence. 

In other news, White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway may have violated ethics rules by going on TV and telling Americans to go buy Ivanka's products. Not only are the Trumps interested primarily in self enrichment, they have people working for them that don't understand the basic rules of governance. 

Day 22 (Friday, February 10, 2017): News reports revealed that Michael Flynn may have violated federal laws by communicating with Russian authorities the day before the Obama administration instituted sanctions against Russia for tampering with the US election.This investigation could lead to what we have all been wondering: what exactly did Russia and the Trump campaign communicate to one another during the election. 

Sorry for not linking to everything quite so thoroughly this time, but it's overwhelming just trying to keep up with all the nonsense that happens each week. Still working on my presentation.

Thanks for reading.

Until next time, I remain, a concerned citizen.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stars and Stripes in Distress: week 2

My plan is to do these updates weekly, but I reserve the right to alter the pattern, timing, and topics over time. I may end up doing daily sometimes and broad stories at other times. Either way, the kakistocracy and kleptocracy (or kleptokakistocracy - "rule by the worst thieves") seems to be accelerating.

Day 8 (Friday, January 27, 2017): Donald J. Trump signs an executive order barring citizens of 7 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US until the refugee vetting policies can be reviewed and strengthened. People on the right immediately came out and said, "he made good on his campaign promise" while on the left were calls of racism and Islamophobia and reminders that the US was built on immigration - give us your tired, your poor, your huddle masses. Where there was almost universal agreement, even if whispered among GOP politicians, was that the roll-out of the executive order was botched, badly. The timeline was immediate, which gave people actually in-flight from these countries no option but to arrive in the US and be denied entry. Further, instructions Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were unclear or confusing. Green card holders who had lived in the US for decades were not allowed to return to their homes, families, and careers.

Quietly as this was grabbing all of the headlines, chief political strategist Steve Bannon was appointed to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council while the director of national intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were told they do not need to attend the meetings except when issues involve them. This runs directly contrary to both the purpose of the NSC and precedent. President George W. Bush expressly did not want his chief political strategist, Karl Rove, present at NSC meetings, because he wanted to maintain a separation between domestic political decision-making and foreign policy - "politics stops at the water's edge" as it were - Trump clearly has no such compulsion. Most likely because he's in way of his head and his his primary counsel comes from ... Steve Bannon who now seems to be consolidating power in the White House.

Day 9 (Saturday, January 28, 2017): As word emerged that citizens of the 7 countries prohibited by the previous day's EO were being detained and denied entry into the US, spontaneous protests began to arise at airports all over the country. ACLU lawyers flocked to the airports offering to represent detained travelers while other ACLU lawyers immediately filed injunctions against the statute. Thousands of protestors showed up at New York's JFK airport and NY taxi drivers, who are predominantly Muslim, performed a one hour "sit down" in which they refused to drive to or from JFK.  A federal judge based in NY issued a temporary injunction on the EO, which was subsequently echoed by a judge in Massachusetts.

Day 10 (Sunday, January 29, 2017): Protests continued at airports around the country including American veterans coming to the aid of stranded immigrants and refugees. Two prominent GOP Senators who have long been critics of Donald Trump, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, released a joint statement claiming that Trump's Muslim ban was harmful to US interests overseas. They went on the weekend talk shows to make their case and did so compellingly. Some of those detained were actually former military interpreters that had bravely risked their live to help the US military communicate with local Islamic leaders. The further point is that the ban could easily serve as an ISIS recruitment tool. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were both consistent in their message that Islam was not the enemy. Donald Trump's Muslim Ban does the opposite - it makes Islam the enemy, which is exactly what ISIS and other extremist groups have been claiming for years.  Sunday, Trump took to twitter to defend his "ban" by claiming it was temporary and "not a ban" (he has subsequently called it a "ban" multiple times).

Perhaps the story that will have the longest legs from Sunday was Trump's first authorized military action since taking office. He authorized a raid in Yemen, which killed a US special forces soldier and at least 10 women and children including an infant and an 8 year old girl whose older brother had been killed by a US strike last year.  Reports have begun coming out of the White House that Trump was not fully involved in the decision, did not seek alternative options or opinions, and was not present in the situation room at the attack was under way. Turns out the site had been reinforced with al Qaeda soldiers, which repelled the attack. Critics are claiming this action was botched and could easily have been avoided. Trump, predictably, blames President Obama. President Obama had left this action unauthorized when he left office. Liberals are already referring to this as "Trump's Benghazi" ... I personally want to know more before casting judgment, but it's certainly an inauspicious start.

Day 11 (Monday, January 30, 2017):  In a full on obvious example of "kakistocracy", Donald Trump signed an executive order that requires that if any government agency proposes a new federal regulation, it needs to be accompanied by 2 existing regulations that can be removed. This evidence-free approach to government is emblematic of the long, slow "small government" Grover Nordquist type attack on our civil society in which you slowly bind the ability of the federal government to provide effective governance, which then allows you to demand further cuts to make a smaller, less effective government, eventually completely crippling the ability of the government to do anything at all that's substantive and meaningful in preventing corporate aggression or providing for a safe and secure environment for its citizens. That's not to say all government regulations are good or needed, but it is to say that we should be using best evidence and an evaluation of the cost-benefit of the regulation to determine if its needed - not require that 2 other regulations have to go in order to implement a new one. That's just foolish.

Day 12 (Tuesday, January 31, 2017): Donald Trump had his first, and perhaps only "The Apprentice" moment of the first month of his presidency when he made a live, prime-time announcement of his Supreme Court nominee, conservative Neil Gorsuch.The handshake between the men was supremely awkward in typical "bully" fashion for Mr. Trump, but Gorsuch stood his ground and then made a very grown up speech about the purpose of the courts. Given that he replaces Anonin Scalia and has similar philosophies, but without Scalia's acerbic side, I expect that should Gorsuch be confirmed he will continue the court's recent pro-business, anti-woman positions, but with much less animosity. While I was hoping for Thomas Hardiman, who would likely be a centrist, Gorsuch is likely who we will get.

Democratic Senators have promised to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination, but my personal position is that he may not be the time to use this approach. He's an accomplished judge and well respected. However, payback for Merrick Garland ought to play into the calculus and it will be fun to watch.

Day 13 (Wednesday, February 1, 2017): February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month and Donald Trump stuck his ignorance in it almost immediately, praising Frederick Douglass by saying, "Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who has done an amazing job." Mr. Douglass has been dead for 122 years. Donald Trump has no idea who he is. Nor does his press secretary Sean Spicer, who bumbled his way through a reply about Douglass, saying, in part, “I think he (Trump) wants to highlight the contributions that he (Douglas) has made, and I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s (Trump) going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.” "More and more" what exactly is not clear, but then again, nothing is clear with this bumbling administration.

Day 14 (Thursday, February 2, 2017): Congratulations, everyone. We've made it 2 weeks into the Trump administration without declaring war on anybody, though Trump's buddy Putin has begun military action in Ukraine, almost as if on cue. Without President Obama, a strong NATO supporter, Putin is now testing the resolve of NATO and Europe generally.

Locally, Donald Trump went to the National Prayer Breakfast and spent entirely too much time criticizing Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The Apprentice" reboot. It's really hard to imagine any president in near or distant memory who is this egomaniacal and unprepared for the job. News of his "hangry" spat with the Australian Prime Minister also echo this lack of character fit for the job.

Oh, and the Trump administration appeared to ease sanctions against Russia over the cyberattacks that helped him win the White House. The sanctions eased were specifically on the Russian spy agency that lead the cyberattacks. Big surprise there.

Day 15 (Friday, February 3, 2017): Adding an extra day to this post so I can get through the previous week's news and leave the weekend twitter storm to lead off next week's post.

Friday we learned Donald Trump is considering rolling back many of the financial regulations that were put into place in the wake of the mortgage backed securities crisis that lead to the global economic meltdown. This is no surprise as his "buddies" at the banks need some freedom so they can make money and all of that amazing wealth can trickle down (it won't).

Additionally, the Trump administration issued new sanctions against Iran, perhaps for their shady missile test, though of course, nothing is crystal clear with this administration.

And finally, a Seattle judge issued a nationwide injunction on the Muslim Ban, which had rescinded in the neighborhood of 60,000 to 100,000 previously issued visas to citizens from the 7 affected countries. We'll see how that ends up playing out in the weeks ahead.

During this week the GOP controlled Congress also passed many retrograde policies, such as rescinding rules requiring clean water standards near coal mines and requirements for energy companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. So things are are about to get much dirtier both physically and ethically in our energy industry, but that should be no surprise to anyone who actually pays attention to policies rather than just being right-left partisans.

Things are rolling down hill faster and faster.

Until next time, I remain ... a concerned citizen.