Friday, February 23, 2018

Puppetry Of The President

Here's Saturday's newspaper column:
We learned a lot from Robert Mueller’s indictments; more still from Trump’s reactions to them. Much of it we already knew: America is under attack by Russia; in social media, right-wing talkers, and the Foxified they found their weapons of choice; whatever their aim when it began, they decided they wanted Trump in the White House; using a multi-pronged effort and plenty of money to put him there, they turned the strengths of democracy into weaknesses. 
What we hadn’t known was the extent to which our intelligence agencies had eyes on the perpetrators. That the indictments contained direct quotes from inside was more than just a basis for charges: it was a shot aimed straight into the basket of Trump’s enablers having connections to Russians and denying wrongdoing. 
Though the indictments referred only to “unwitting” pawns who believed it was with fellow Americans they agreed to spread lies, the charges neither addressed nor exculpated Kushner, Manafort, Don Jr., et al. Nor, importantly, Trump. We know things, the indictments said. The opportunity to mitigate your punishment is finite. Gates and Van Der Zwaan are the first to catch Mueller’s drift.   
Because Russian efforts began before his candidacy, Trump made the spurious claim he was off the hook. Nice try. When it began was shortly after Trump took his puerile pageantry to Moscow. It’s a reasonable conclusion that by blackmail, shakedown, or simply seeing Trump’s neediness and narcissism up close, Putin recognized tillable soil in which to plant his flag. Unknown, so far, is how deep it went.  
There’s no denying Putin has gotten what he wanted. Trump continues to blame everyone but Russia; only grudgingly, then backpedaling, has he acknowledged their interference, much less enacted sanctions, including those he signed into law. It’s alleged Flynn promised Kislyak they’d undo President Obama’s, which, in yet another among his pathological lies, Trump claims never existed. Inconsistency and lies being Trump’s strong suit, he tried for a twofer: touting the 2014 starting date of Russian interventions while denying they happened. And he and Pence falsely claim it’s been concluded there was no impact on the election. 
Floating another deflection, Trump says it wasn’t about electing him, it was about dividing us. Right. And how better to do it? To Trump, though, it’s lawful investigations into unlawful activities that create division.  
“They’re laughing their asses off in Moscow,” tweeted Donald the Wordsmith, oblivious to the irony. Then, despicably exploiting the murders of children, he claimed the FBI’s mishandling of information about the Florida shooter was because they’re pursuing the “fake” Russia story. Will he go still lower? Of course. As will the execrable right-wing talkers and other deplorables slandering the Florida survivors, whose righteous eloquence they fear. You can’t scrape the bottom of a barrel that hasn’t one. 
A president’s primary duty is to defend our country from its enemies, foreign and domestic. Trump’s dismissal, despite “incontrovertible” proof, as National Security Advisor McMaster put it, of an attack on America no less premeditated and destructive than Pearl Harbor or 9/11 is dereliction. Worse is his refusal to do anything about it, for which derelict is the mildest descriptor. How about appeasement, a Foxian favorite? Had it been President Obama, everyone still excusing Trump, every Congressional Republican, would be proclaiming treason and readying impeachment. In their hypocritical hearts, they know it’s true. 
Direct observation supports the conclusions. In word, deed, and non-deed, Trump is aiding and abetting Vladimir Putin, and has been from the start of his campaign. We don’t yet know how deeply Trump is in Putin’s tank, but we can assume his inaction on the attack is, at least in part, because he and Congressional Republicans want more of it next election. It’s their best shot.  
Our democratic institutions, we’re told, can withstand even a dangerous bedlamite like Trump. Are we sure? Congress turns a blind eye. Trump stacks the courts with right-wing ideologues, threatens judges already in place. He calls the press “enemies of America,” shuns expertise. Voters are stupefyingly susceptible to Russian and Foxolimjonesian propaganda. We’ve just learned Russia hacked into voter rolls: our complicit House Republicans responded by voting to end the only government agency responsible for safeguarding election security. “Laughing their asses off,” indeed. Pennsylvania Avenue is now Krasnaya Ploshad.  
On Monday, Presidents’ Day passed without a president of the United States in office.
[Image source. The post title is a reference to this, in case you haven't heard of it.]

Friday, February 16, 2018

We Live in NRAmerica

Change of plans. This will be tomorrow's newspaper column: 
Between eleven million for Donald “I’ll self-finance my campaign” Trump and another twenty million against Hillary Clinton, the NRA spent over thirty million on the last presidential campaign. Marco “Don’t jump to conclusions” Rubio has accepted more than three million from them in his career. So has Joni “Thoughts and prayers” Ernst, which is only half of what John “the maverick” McCain has received. And Paul “No knee-jerk” Ryan has taken in more than any other in the House of Representatives. If post-hoc doesn’t always equal propter hoc, it must have an effect. Otherwise, why would Mr. LaPierre keep doling out cash like pig slop in a sty?  
We know, because we’re told so every time, it’s too soon to talk about Florida; so how about all the others that have occurred in 2018 and before. For numbers of mass shootings in America, Trump’s first year in office wins the gold. I’m not suggesting that it’s all on him: American gun violence has been epidemic for decades. But he gets zero credit for improving things, because he hasn’t, and some for making them worse. Calling for violence at his rallies (Trumpists consider that a lie, despite the video evidence.) Ending Obama-era controls on the mentally ill getting guns. Cutting funding for gun-purchase background checks. Cuts in Medicaid, which happens to provide the bulk of mental health services for the poor. Removing the mandate for insurance coverage of mental health.  
After Florida, Trump blamed locals who knew about the shooter’s mental health issues but didn’t report him. Given Trump’s aforementioned actions, what would have happened had they done so? (We know the answer, because some people had. Thankfully, it was different here.) He, a white-supremacist MAGA guy, purchased his AR-15 legally. Florida has virtually no gun control laws. 
At this point in America, the demon is out of the bottle. If sales of all guns were banned tomorrow, there are already enough of them out there for every man, woman, and child. Notwithstanding even the most fevered delusions of Infowars-loving Trumpists, there’s no way an effort could or would be mounted, much less be successful, to “come for them.” We are what we’ve become. 
Maybe there’s still a way to deal with it; if so, it won’t come from Republicans. After the Las Vegas massacre, Republican House members rose to the occasion by passing a bill forcing states that don’t allow concealed carry to allow people from concealed-carry state to roam free, unconstrained by their own laws. That’s some righteous federalism, right there.  
But really? No laws will help? None? It’s a favorite talking-point of NRAiders that Chicago, with its gun violence despite its strict gun laws, proves they don’t work. Facts, those troublesome things, say otherwise: guns flow into Chicago from neighboring cities and states which have no such laws. The result of Australian gun laws after its lonely mass shooting has become a liberal shibboleth: it’s impressive, and will never happen here. Not unless Republicans are thrown out of office and a constitutional amendment were to pass Congress, get signed by a president, and validated by thirty-eight states. We’ll be drowned by rising seas, choked by unbreathable air, or poisoned to death by undrinkable water long before that happens.  
If there’s a solution, I don’t see it. Democrats say we have to do something, Republicans say we don’t. We all say it’s time to regain respect for each other, but no one really knows how. I do know, though, that having a role model in the White House doesn’t help. Not one who suborns violence at his rallies, calls the press an “enemy of the people.” Who says Democrats want open borders, illegal immigrants running wild and raping your women, doesn’t help. One who reads the usual hollow, tired words from a teleprompter, saying he’s with us. Reading it badly, unenthusiastically. One who admires Alex Jones who, as usual, claimed the Florida murders were orchestrated by Democrats. We’re now a country in which people believe that.  
So the NRA and its money-takers are right. The only way to protect children in NRAmerica is to turn schools into impenetrable fortresses. Steel buildings with foot-thick doors, no windows, armed guards and barbed wire outside and armed teachers inside. It’d teach our kids the uniqueness of America, too. But, sure as hell, we’ll need more tax cuts to pay for it.  
[Image source]

Trump, Unmasked

My next newspaper column, sent in with too little time to address the latest mass murder. But Trump sent condolences, so it's all okay.
Based on emails I get, hardcore Trumpists are as impenetrable by facts as concrete by feathers. Either they enjoy being lied to, or they wouldn’t recognize a lie if it blackened their eyes. For everyone else, it’s incontestable: Trump’s campaign promises were free-floating falsehoods. Emailers insist he’s never lied, that he saved the economy after Obama crashed the excellent one he inherited. Which tells you everything.  
This isn’t about stupid lies, like the number of people at his inauguration, where the US ranks in taxation, how much tax reform will cost him, or voter fraud. This is about Trump’s lie-revealing, just-released budget, affecting millions of Americans, many of whom voted for him, inexplicably believing a man whose career was one of cheating, lawsuits, scams, and failures would be truthful and manage his office competently. 
Lies like protecting Medicare and Social Security. Like assuring us The Wall is indispensable and Mexico would pay for it. Like claiming he’ll never run a four-hundred-billion-dollar deficit. Promising to eliminate the federal debt (not the deficit: the twenty-trillion-dollar debt!) in eight years. Really, Trumpists? Now that we’ve seen his impossible budget, the mendacity is clear. Except to dead-enders, who, one assumes, consider arithmetic fake news.  
Trump’s proposal has the same chance of becoming law as I do of replacing Alex Jones on Infowars. Since a ten-page document directly affecting national security was too long for Donald to read, we know he had little if anything to do with producing it. But whether it was shown to him in pictures or highlights read to him with big words removed, he bestowed upon it his imprimatur. Presumably then, it represents his priorities. 
Like the Republican tax plan that’s already law, Trump takes the deficit, after Obama reduced by two-thirds the one Bush left him, to over a trillion for 2018. Using unrealistically optimistic predictions coming from the White House, which claim sustained economic growth fifty-percent higher than it’s practically ever been, the deficit would still be over four-hundred-billion ten years from now. According to economists using projections grounded in reality, it’d be around two trillion. 
How many Trumpophiles who raged at Obama’s (steadily decreasing) deficits will excuse Trump’s budgetary carnage? Or care they’ve been duped. How many understand why this is exactly the wrong time for such lop-sided tax cuts?  
Disagreements between liberals and conservatives about the role of government should, in theory, make for workable middle-ground legislation. Conservatives, though, claim social safety nets are abused by practically all recipients. Trumpists love cutting food stamps. Do they know it hurts military families along with their usual targets? Probably they’re fine with cutting housing assistance. But Medicare, Social Security? Even conservatives use Medicaid. The National Weather Service? Hanford cleanup? No concerns? Millions cut from gun-purchase background-checks: perfect timing. Condolences, though.  
What about people who believed Trump’s promises to return lost jobs? Okay with eliminating programs for displaced workers, neighborhood reinvestment, cutting mining safety regulations? Climate change research, sure: it’s a hoax. But the Chemical Safety Board? Legal services? Do no broke Trumpists need lawyers? Okay, cutting NPR, PBS, DOE, NEA makes sense: enlightened voters frighten Republicans. 
America already spends more on defense than the next dozen countries combined, but there’s a huge bump for the Pentagon, which can’t keep the F-35 flying. Billions for The Wall, naturally, paying for which amounts to giving a cookie to a child throwing a tantrum in aisle five. These aren’t the priorities that made America great.  
Remember that “only the best people” whopper? White House personnel turn over like tilled soil. Indictments, criminal behavior, ethics violations. Housing expert Carson gives a fat no-bid contract to his daughter-in-law. Zinke and Pruitt charge us for their fancies (the VA Secretary lies about his wife’s), while announcing they won’t enforce pollution laws. DeVos won’t enforce civil rights rules. Sessions plans to incarcerate more pot-smokers in private prisons whose stock he owns. Trump endorses sex predators, defends violent abusers, Kelley lies about when they knew. 
To anyone with a corpus callosum, Trump’s deceits scream out. Mismanagement, detachment, disinterest in new information, and now, a budget proposal designed further to enrich the wealthy and punish (and poison) those who, it makes sure, never will be. 
And Russia. Don’t forget Russia. The truth is out there.  
As to Trump’s promised infrastructure plan, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to the toll booth.    
[Image source]

Friday, February 9, 2018

Memo Demo

My next newspaper column: 
By ignorance or premeditation, Donald Trump, who, as did Stalin, defines treason as failing to applaud him, damages the United States and its institutions beyond Soviet Cold War dreams. Khrushchev said they needn’t invade America, they’d take us down from within. With aid and comfort of today’s Republican party, as they attempt to derail investigations into potential sabotage, it’s happening. “When you don’t have facts, sow doubt.” That’s a Russian thing, too. (So is Trump ordering a military parade for himself.)  
The FBI, CIA, and DOJ have hardly been exemplary throughout history. FISA resulted from the Church committee’s investigations of their excesses, requiring specific justifications for surveilling American citizens. Warrants aren’t handed out like sausage samples at Costco; they are, in fact, extensively prepared and subjected to critical judicial review. 
Around the same time as FISA’s creation, rules were written to prevent federal law enforcement agencies from becoming instruments of presidential imperium. (Ironically, given Republican claims, current FBI recruits are required to visit the Holocaust Museum, to see what follows when they do.) Trump, unchecked by capitulating Congressional Republicans, looks to undo them. That should frighten everyone, especially what’s left of conservatives in what’s left of that party. This, not Nunes, shows where the conspiracy is, and reveals the motives behind the “memo” and those defending it. Spoiler alert: it’s about abrogating Constitutional checks on unbridled power.  
For years, Carter Page, self-described “Kremlin adviser,” had been suspected of being a witting or unwitting Russian agent. And maybe – who knows? – Trump himself, considering his dodgy dealings with Moscow’s wealthy kleptocrats. One assumes former KGB interrogator Putin knows how to weaponize patsies. 
Having previously given the White House info from his intelligence committee and lied about it, Devin Nunes admitted to Fox “news” that he hadn’t read the FISA application to which his deceptive memo refers, relying instead on summaries provided by Trey “Benghazi” Gowdy, who, interestingly, admits the memo “in no way” discredits Mueller’s investigation. In fact, with its footnotes and final point, it negates itself.  
Democrats on Nunes’ “intelligence” committee requested all documents related to the application. Republicans refused. If they’re truth-tellers, why not allow examination of the supposedly deep-state-plot-revealing records? Answer: Nunes, et al, have a narrative they want the public to swallow and messengers eager to spoon it out, counting on the power of Foxification to obscure the dangerous implications. 
Republicans’ defense of Trump’s authoritarianism amounts to explicit rejection of Constitutionally established system of checks and balances. Support for the mechanisms for America to repel dictatorship or subversion by a hostile foreign power ought to be universal and bipartisan. That it’s not raises serious questions about what’s happened to the Republican Party, and what, or who, is behind it. Questions Trumpists doggedly want neither asked nor answered. 
Mere months ago, Republicans agreed Vladimir Putin was a mortal enemy, toward whom President Obama was dangerously weak. Then came Trump (whose lawyers fear he can’t testify without lying), heaping praise on the man and hiring people with deep ties to him. If there’s no “there” there, why the desperation to defame the investigation and the people and institutions carrying it out? 
Consider who benefits from causing Americans to distrust agencies dedicated to preventing illegal foreign influences. Why are those who claim to love America more than people like me rallying around attempts to be rid of Robert Mueller? Why not let him report? If it reveals threats to America, shouldn’t all Americans want to know? If he finds nothing, wouldn’t that be a good thing for everyone, including Trump? If it’s full of falsehood, won’t our fair-minded right-wing media be able to tear it apart with Hannitoid verisimilitude? 
It’s self-evident how TrumPutin benefits from silencing Mueller and the FBI. What side deals Nunes, Ryan, Hannity, ad prevaricatum, have made, and with whom, remains a vital unknown. Whatever their motivation, they’d have us believe the FBI investigating possible treason is “politicization,” when what it is, is doing their job.  
The “worse than Watergate” crowd are right: this obstruction of justice from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue makes Richard Nixon look like Eliot Ness. Devin Nunes’ cynical stunt and Trump’s lies about it lay bare their contempt for established rules of law, while Trumpists and the Republican Party remain slavishly indifferent or actively complicit. 
Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson says we’re as vulnerable to Russian treachery as we were in 2016. 
[Image source]

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Debt? Didn't They Once Care?

I'm probably misremembering. Here I'd been thinking Republicans laid claim to fiscal responsibility. That they were outraged at the deficits under Obama, despite the fact that they got steadily lower than when he took over for George Bush. Who was, I seem to recall, a Republican.

Turns out -- imagine my surprise -- that government borrowing is taking a huge leap in Trump's first fiscal year:

... The federal government is on track to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year — Trump's first full year in charge of the budget.
That's almost double what the government borrowed in fiscal year 2017.
Here are the exact figures: The U.S. Treasury expects to borrow $955 billion this fiscal year, according to documents released Wednesday. It's the highest amount of borrowing in six years, and a big jump from the $519 billion the federal government borrowed last year. 
Treasury mainly attributed the increase to "the fiscal outlook." The Congressional Budget Office was more blunt. In a report this week, the CBO said tax receipts are going to be lower because of the new tax bill... (bolding by yours truly)
There really are no immutible values among Republicans, other than tax cuts and the pretense that they pay for themselves and help people other than the very wealthy.

Friday, February 2, 2018

What Happened To Republicans?

Here comes my next newspaper column: 
Once upon a time, most Republican members and leaders had integrity. Believed in science. Considered the environment worth protecting. Created the agency dedicated to doing just that, matter of fact. Guy named Nixon, as I recall.  
Nixon won as the “law and order” candidate. Pretty much every Republican candidate for pretty much any office since then has touted his or her law ‘n orderliness. No one loved our law enforcement agencies more than they. To them, J. Edgar Hoover personified the perfect FBI agent (or was it Efrem Zimbalist, Jr? Doesn’t matter). Attacking the agency as seditious, calling for it to be “cleansed,” would have been unthinkable. A dishonest Congressman ginning up a deceptive “memo” aimed at ending an independent investigation into corruption, rallying around it in unison: wouldn’t have happened.  
I don’t think I’m misremembering a time when Republicans were no more likely to lie than Democrats; when they’d have stood up to a president of either party who told outrageous lies daily, who, when the lies were pointed out, called the out-pointers “fake news.” Wasn’t it honorable Republicans who, seeing Nixon’s obstruction of justice, told him to resign or be impeached? What changed?  
Newt Gingrich, for one, with his scorched earth approach to politics. Karl Rove, who considered Evangelical Christians gullible fodder. A Republican Supreme Court, declaring that “money is speech,” “corporations are people,” and, laughably except for the crying part, that “… independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption.”  
Today’s Republican Party bears no resemblance to that of a few decades ago. That party would never have excused an amoral, grandiose, ill-informed, vengeful, lazy, corrupt, pathological liar like Donald Trump. Today, though, it’s about money, pouring in through Courtly opened floodgates. Koch money. It’s about being bought and paid for.  
In that context, Donald Trump, horrifying as he is, is a convenient distraction from the much more important issues; which may explain why Congressional Republicans are so intent on keeping him in power, coughing up Alex-Jones-level conspiracies to end an investigation into what are possibly the most democracy-threatening actions by a president ever. All but silent are they, even after Trump made clear how beholden he is to Putin by refusing to implement sanctions that passed Congress by a combined vote of 517 - 5. If that’s not threat to the rule of Constitutional law, what is? Surely some Republican voters care, even if those in Congress don’t.  
Maybe it’s because the Kochs have pledged $400 million dollars for the midterm elections. They’ve just announced plans to turn public education into a cafeteria from which parents can pick and choose what their children are taught, providing the Kochs another generation of climate-change deniers and Congress a new batch of uninquisitive voters. 
Historically incapable of producing a coherent message, Democrats must make 2018 elections less about Trump’s unfitness, and more about what he and Republicans are doing to our country
· Making climate change worse. “Polar ice is at record levels,” lied Trump. 
· Allowing pollution by lead, arsenic, benzene, dioxin, and more. Other than polluters, why would anyone support this? Don’t we all want our children to be healthy? 
· Expecting the Departments of Justice and the FBI to become instruments of presidential power. Surely even Trumpists can see the danger. They did when Fox “news” convinced them Obama was doing it. 
· Turning public schools into places to propagandize and mis-educate. Can’t we all agree decent education is key to America’s competitiveness? 
·  Increasing unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions by preventing access to sex education and birth control. Forcing birth but refusing to help the newly born. This is “choosing life?” 
· Kicking millions off healthcare coverage, offering no sensible replacement. 
· Trying to destroy our Constitutionally mandated free press. It’s not mysterious why Russia, China, and North Korea don’t allow it, and Trump doesn’t want it.  
· Ongoing voter suppression and gerrymandering, even after courts strike them down. Sooner or later, they could come after you, too.  
These threaten everyone, even Trumpists. In his fear-mongering SOTU speech (he lied that it was the most-watched ever), Trump, grade-school-level name-caller, demander of jailing opponents, called for “unity.” That’s the last thing he wants. For, were voters of both parties who care about their kids’ future to unite over these issues, there’d be a very different Congress, and he’d be a one-termer. Or less. 
[Image source]

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