Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

Posts tagged “Donald Trump

Kabuki Absurdity (and Potted Plants?)


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There are days when I feel like I fell asleep and woke up in an alternate dimension. You know, kind of like Rod Serling kidnapped me and threw me into an episode of “The Twilight Zone” without asking first. There’s been more of them over the past 26 months than in the previous 50 years of life, but I’m beginning to think all of that was just a warm-up for the past month.

You see, that’s when people suddenly became aware that men will, given the opportunity, think of women as sexual objects (and vice versa).

I know, that’s a shocking concept. Prior to a month ago, every woman in every nightclub around the world was dressed in a potato sack. Those jokes you heard about men thinking about sex every ten seconds (personally, I think those overestimate the time between thinking about sex by around 8 seconds) were invented somewhere around October 15. Marilyn Monroe was the most talented actress of all time, which is why she’s so well remembered.

Of course, all of that is bunco, but judging from the hew and cry over the past month you would never know it. This isn’t to excuse the behavior of a Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer. I’m going to be honest, before either of those guys hit the news I hadn’t even heard of the mating ritual that involved jerking off to a potted plant while your intended watched. But the sudden shock that anything of this sort  was going on is, well, disingenuous, to say the least. Look, I’m not one who reads Page Six or watches TMZ. But even I recall hearing stories about the infamous Hollywood “casting couch” as a kid. You know, how wannabe starlets would trade sexual favors in exchange for roles in movies and television. To pretend that any of this is new, or that every woman who participated, was somehow abused is laughable on its face.

Now, we’ve moved on to the next target: politicians. Somehow, in all this recent fervor, we’ve discovered that not every politician is a great guy (or gal). Their effectiveness as a legislator, jurist or executive is of no matter when judging their fitness for office. Nope, the only thing that counts now is if they ever grabbed somebody’s ass in a hotel room (or, in Al Franken’s case, a dressing room). This is about as ridiculous an idea as has ever been thrown into public discourse.

The simple fact is history is replete with examples of horrible, terrible people who excelled in public service. Think where the civil rights movement would be today if Martin Luther King or Lyndon Johnson (or John Conyers, for that matter) were held to these absurd standards. The world might well be a cinder if JFK had been subjected to them. We might all be speaking German if FDR’s peccadilloes had forced him from office. The US might not even exist if Thomas Jefferson (or if John Hancock or Samuel Adams) were held to this sudden contempt we have for men who act like boors. And just imagine where the #MeToo movement would be if the sexual predations of Eleanor Roosevelt had been splashed across the front pages of her day.

And please, let’s not even get started on the sexual career of William Jefferson Clinton. He may not have been a great President, but he did introduce all of us to other unique mating rituals. *ahem*

So, grow up people. Get past the junior high titillation and get back to the real issues at hand. Lord knows we have things facing our country, things that really matter, than to allow ourselves to be distracted by all this folderol.

Oh, and guys? If you feel the need to make love to a potted plant, seek professional help.

 

 

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25th Amendment: Will Trump Be Deposed?


There’s been a lot of talk lately about President Trump being removed from office via the 25th Amendment (thanks, Steve Bannon). I thought all that had gone away months ago, but suddenly talking heads can’t get enough of the latest talking point. Since everyone seems to have forgotten what the 25th Amendment says, I thought I would share the following Roll Call video. It’s by far the most unbiased presentation on the topic I’ve come across.

https://cdn.media.rollcall.com/videos/2027/101217Whiteboard25thAmendment.webm


Kneeling for Stupidity


FL: Arizona Cardinals v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a year of what may go down as the dumbest protest in American history, it seems the National Football League is ready to listen to their fans and end the shenanigans, once and for all. The NFLPA should thank them, before any more of their members are made to look like communist sympathizers.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began this hairbrained scheme on September 11, 2016. At the time, I thought it was nothing more than a very idiotic marketing ploy by a former starter whose poor play had landed him on the bench of a bad, and dysfunctional, team. He may have claimed it was to protest police brutality, but his actions since (appearing at press conference in Miami wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt & drawing little pigs on his socks among them) only bolstered my opinion: either he was a wannabe Che Guevara (but without the cajones), or he was desperately trying to force the league to keep him employed. When the season began with him not having a job and the outcry went up from certain segments of the sports commentariat that Kaepernick “deserved” a job, I felt vindicated. After all, his terrible play the previous three seasons certainly didn’t justify his being on an NFL roster. But that didn’t stop that rather vocal group of commentators from assuring us the only reason Kaepernick was watching the games from his couch was racism.

(As a side note: 22 of 87 NFL quarterback are black, as are 9 of the 32 starters. The NFL, as are all pro sports leagues these days, is the most egalitarian of employers. The only thing that matters is performance on the field, not race or religion.)

The NFL is a league that employs rapists, murderers, drug fiends and wife beaters, among other sundry malcontents. And until a week ago, approximately a quarter of those players were engaging in on-the-field behavior 90% of the country finds reprehensible. The outcry and backlash was the result of a few players who may have thought they were doing something principled, and a bunch of guys who get paid to have their brains routinely bounced around their skulls falling for what President Trump does best: troll.

And that was the insanity of this protest from the get-go: perceived police brutality in American cities is a topic worthy of discussion. But the moment you start using the National Anthem and the US flag as the center of your protest, the cause gets drowned out. It isn’t very positive imagery. Look, I get it: the First Amendment allows political speech involving the national symbols as props. But it doesn’t excuse you from widespread ridicule and scorn when you’re even perceived to be disrespecting them. The result in that case tends to be that your cause gets lost in the noise. Nobody cares, nobody wants to hear it – worse, your cause becomes anti-American. If you need a better example, the Supreme Court rulings that upheld disrespecting the flag as political speech were over the flag burning incidents in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Does anyone remember what those protests were about? No. All we remember is seeing the images of people burning a flag, and the outrage and anger it sparked.

Prior to the President’s calling out the players, only a handful were engaging in carrying on Kaepernick’s egregious demonstration. But, Trump Derangement Syndrome combined with the idea of team unity, and that Sunday nearly every team was protesting the flag and anthem. The blowback has been fierce, to say the least: attendance and viewership have cratered in the intervening two weeks. The league and networks have been scrambling, and the proposed rule change is a result of all that. Of course, the better option for the NFL might be to forgo the nearly $6 million they get annually from DoD for their contrived displays of patriotism prior to kickoff. But somehow, unless Congress expressly forbids it in the next budget, I don’t see that happening.

As for the players who feel strongly about police brutality and targeting, they have plenty of outlets to do something. After all, these are all multimillionaires with public megaphones in their adopted communities. They can arrange rallies and protest marches, and actually do more than simply stage ridiculous publicity stunts. They can endow scholarships. They can engage in outreach between their communities and the local police departments. Money and fame both talk, and neither is in short supply for a Cam Newton or Marshawn Lynch.

As for Mr. Kaepernick, he gave an interview on Saturday that amounted to him begging for a job. Of course, his girlfriend came out Sunday and tried to claim he was misquoted, but I suppose the cat is out of the proverbial bag now. As I thought from the beginning, he was trying to use the BLM activists to ensure his employment. Rather than celebrating him, they should be seething at this point. He used them, and in the process, turned their protest movement into a mockery of responsible public demonstration, making it a subject of abject ridicule.

As for me, I don’t watch football for political stunts and could care less about them. I tune in on Sundays to watch young men get their brains routinely bounced around their skulls, not unlike the Roman gladiators of old. Much the same as I don’t care a whit about the idiocy of the people who entertain me from Hollywood, the same goes for the ones on the gridiron. So I’ll keep watching, at least until they decide to switch from tackle to flag football.

Update: looks like the NFL isn’t going to force players to stand, only “encourage” them. Whatever, it’s their funeral. -10/11/17


To DACA or not to DACA?


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Since everyone else is weighing in on the issue of DACA, I figure I might as well, too.

First, although I am opposed to illegal immigration in general, I think this particular class (children raised in the US, although not born here or granted legal immigration status) merits special consideration. For the most part, these are people who didn’t choose to come to the United States. That decision was made for them while they were minors. When we’re talking about DACA, we’re talking about people who have been raised here and are American in every sense of the word – except legally. Moreover, there are at least 800,000 of them. There could be as many as 1.7 million.

Some have become high achievers in their chosen fields, some have served in the military with distinction, others are just ordinary folk, trying to find their way in this world. Yes, some are bad apples – as you can find in every demographic group. But it is a small minority, and they can be dealt with as any nation deals with crappy immigrants.

All that being said, I applaud President Trump’s decision to terminate the existing DACA program, and for one reason: our Constitution says immigration decisions are the responsibility of Congress, not the Executive. Before President Obama created the DACA program, he acknowledged (often) that any such executive action was unconstitutional. When he issued that executive order in June 2012, it was not his intention to make it a permanent fixture. The EO included a sunset period, since renewed twice. Obama had dual intentions; first, he wanted to try to force Congress to tackle immigration reform. Secondly (and cravenly), was his intent to shore up his support in the Latino community prior to the 2012 election. He failed on the first count, but succeeded on the second.

President Trump is, in large measure, copying the Obama administration’s playbook. By announcing that he is ending the program, but delaying enforcement for six months, he is attempting to force Congress to act and giving them a window of opportunity. At the same time, he is trying to reinforce his standing among his base by at least appearing tough on immigration.

So, are Trump’s chances of getting Congress to act any better than Obama’s were? First, there is the House leadership, which so far has demonstrated that it is extremely consistent in running from their own shadows. If they can be forced to address the issue, the chances of something happening are pretty good.

In fact, something could conceivably pass this week. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) has had HR 496 pending for nearly 8 months, and it specifically addresses the DACA situation. Had the leadership scheduled it for a vote in the Spring or Summer, this issue would already be behind us. But, again, leadership is afraid of doing anything that might possibly bring about a challenge from the right, even if they personally support it. (Where I come from, we call that cowardice – but whatever). However, Coffman has about had it with the cowards in his party and is filing a discharge petition to force a floor vote. He might just get it, too. As of this writing, he was only 3 votes shy of forcing Speaker Paul Ryan’s hand.

That would be half of the equation, because as we all learned on Schoolhouse Rock, a bill has to pass both houses of Congress before it can be sent to the President’s desk. There is a companion bill pending in the Senate, S128. Unfortunately, the Senate leadership is as afraid of their shadows as their House counterparts (see: Obamacare repeal). So how could the bill make it’s way to the floor if Mitch McConnell decides to go into a corner and cower? Believe it or not, this is where the filibuster can be useful. Any senator who supports passage can tie the Senate in knots until S128 is voted on. This is the perfect time to engage in such tactics, too. In case you’ve missed it, virtually every fiscal matter facing the country needs to be addressed over the next 3 1/2 weeks. Even losing a day to a filibuster would seriously crimp on Mitch’s ability to get out and fundraise.

So yes, there is a better than 50/50 chance something finally gets done. In fact, if Congress wanted put the President on the spot, they could pass the BRIDGE Act, as is, ignoring the White House’s request to include border wall funding. But again, I doubt that happens. Congressional leadership is too cowardly to even consider it..


Bye Bye, Steve Bannon


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It’s official: Steve Bannon was fired from his role as the President’s Chief Strategist earlier today.

But before anyone starts thinking this signals that the administration will now pivot to the center, you need to stop and think about something. Bannon wasn’t much of a strategist. Rather, he was the guy who came aboard the Trump Train after last year’s Republican National Convention to help streamline and polish Donald Trump’s existing “America First” positions into something more palatable to the general electorate. In terms of strategy, he proved (at best) to be a man playing checkers on the “swamp” chessboard. Otherwise, the President would have actual legislative victories he could point to as wins – and not be where he is, almost 8 months in. Which is to say, his efforts to remake Obamacare into Trumpcare defeated, with no movement on the other big campaign promises, either: the border wall still without funding (and Mexico thumbing their noses at us), no movement on tax reform or infrastructure legislation, and efforts to renegotiate our trade deals actually going backwards.

However, this is the second major administration official in two weeks to cross the new Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and find themselves being sacked as a result. If nothing else, I’m certain other acolytes who may have thoughts of taking similar approaches – of operating the way they did for the campaign and the first 6 1/2 months of this Presidency – are having misgivings now. Kelly has made his imprimatur on the administration. Whether or not the President can abide Kelly’s style and handling remains an unresolved issue, but it’s apparent that Kelly is running the White House as he sees fit. For now, anyway.

Trump will, of course, continue to be Trump. He will continue to push his agenda, focusing on the culture wars that originally earned him electoral support. His economic agenda is actually pretty much straight from the Republican playbook (tax reform, job growth, etc) and he will find congressional support for that, regardless of whatever else he does.

As for Bannon, expect him to return to his previous vocation, agitating for a nationalist agenda. Near term, I foresee him excoriating lawmakers over the border wall funding (given the proximity of budgeting and the debt ceiling on the calendar), and making Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s lives miserable. Longer term, he’ll look to undermine the forces in the West Wing that undermined him from the outside. Expect to see all kinds of hit pieces on Kelly and National Security Advisor HR McMaster, along with Jared and Ivanka Kushner. I also suspect “normal” conservatives, such as Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, and Ben Carson, could find themselves with banner headlines on Breitbart or the National Enquirer. As for the President’s economic team, Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin were part of the “establishment” long before the term became fashionable. Only a fool would think Bannon doesn’t have something special up his sleeve for them.

Removing Bannon won’t end the chaos surrounding the administration. If anything, the noise is about to get louder and more ferocious (although it will almost be funny to watch the NY Times and CNN suddenly forced into defending people like Perry and Mnuchin). Strap in, it’s going to be an even bumpier ride.


Korean Konflagration


In case you haven’t noticed, North Korea has been doing a lot of saber rattling over the past few weeks. If you listen to only the talking heads on television, you could easily believe the world stands on the brink of nuclear war. You would believe that Kim Jong Un is certifiably crazy, and is engaged in showing the USA (and President Trump, in particular) that he doesn’t have tiny hands.

Relax, everyone.

Whatever else Kim might be, a crazed megalomaniac looking to annihilate Guam for the sake of a show of force is not it. He was literally bred to lead his country. Like his father and grandfather, he is dictator for life, assuming the reins only after the death of his predecessor. In olden days, we would have called him the third king of the Kim dynasty. Like monarchs of previous centuries, after assuming the throne he engaged in a purge of anyone who might challenge his power: family members, military leaders and others. To the modern mind, those moves seem outdated, bizarre, surreal; the actions of a madman.

Put in the proper context, they are anything but the actions of an insane megalomaniac. They are the actions of a cold, calculating monarch entrusted not only with leading his nation, but ensuring that the dynasty continues unabated. And if you judge Kim by that standard, then the current situation becomes much easier to understand.

North Korea is a small, isolated country of limited resources and not much material wealth. As it’s leader, Kim has certain responsibilities and like the monarchs of ages past, one of the most important is ensuring his subjects are fed. World history is replete with examples of monarchs who failed in that respect and the results have never been particularly good for them or their families. King Louis XVI lost not only his empire, but his head in the French Revolution. Czar Nicholas II was forced to watch his family’s executions before finally losing his life during the Russian Revolution. Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to flee to the Netherlands when even his army turned against him.

Rest assured, Kim is well aware of all those historical precedents and has no intention of joining their ranks.

His current situation is dire. As mentioned above, his nation is isolated and materially poor. Historically, ensuring the North Korean people are fed is difficult enough – and this year, they’ve suffered their worst drought since at least 2001. Kim knows unless he can secure an imported food source, and the means to pay for it, he faces a winter of mass starvation, a discontented populace and internal unrest. Even if the people are unable to overcome generations of indoctrination and rise up against the regime, there still exists the very real possibility of the army deposing him.

So, what stands in Kim’s way of securing enough food to keep his nation fed? As it has been for the past 67 years, the United States and South Korea.

What Kim wants is to enter into direct negotiations with the both countries, with three ultimate objectives: 1, getting the current sanctions against North Korea lifted; 2, getting grain from the US and 3, obtaining a security guarantee. To that end, he has reverted to a standard North Korean negotiating tactic, threatening to tear up the 64 year old armistice and resuming hostilities.

After all, threats of open warfare worked for both his father and grandfather. It works for one reason: nobody wants to see a shooting war on the Korean peninsula again, particularly South Korea. During the 1950-53 war, the US suffered nearly 60,000 deaths – but South Korea lost over a half million people. (Nobody is certain how many North Koreans died, but most estimates put the number just shy of a million). The capital city, Seoul, was conquered and recaptured on 4 separate occasions. Fast forward to today: Seoul is home to over 10 million people (with another 15 million living in its suburbs) and sits only 35 miles from the border. It is within easy striking distance of conventional artillery, to say nothing of aircraft and rockets. Should the Korean War get “hot” again, it’s generally accepted that South Korea would suffer over a million civilian casualties on just the first day.

This is why ratcheting up the rhetoric always worked in the past. Even if the US is reluctant to grant anything to the North, pressure from the South (who desperately wants to avoid reopening hostilities) has led to begrudging acquiescence.

The calculated gamble Kim is making now is based on that history. The reason he’s amped up the rhetoric even more than in the past is he knows that unlike previous administrations, the current US leadership is unlikely to be swayed only by the pleas from what is currently a scandal-plagued South Korean government. By threatening a US territory, he is hoping to force Washington to the negotiating  table.

It’s not that Kim actually wants a war with the US, He knows that in such an event, he wouldn’t last long. During the 1950-53 conflict, it took the combined power of China and the Soviet Union to stave off total defeat for North Korea. Of course, the wild card in all this is President Trump. He is unconventional, for certain. But what Kim has certainly factored into his consideration is that, thus far, the Trump administration has not deviated all that much from the past 25 years of US foreign policy, despite all the bluster.

Of course, the possibility of open conflict remains if Kim thinks he has no way out of the box he’s created – or if Trump decides that enough is enough and preemptively strikes. But I still don’t think that either will happen. I suspect that even as we bustle about our daily lives, backchannels are being opened and the first tentative steps towards negotiation are under way.


Collusion Confusion


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Unless you’re living under a rock (and frankly, I can’t blame you if that’s where you’ve moved), then you’ve probably heard more about collusion than you ever imagined possible. Loretta Lynch colluded with Hillary and Bill. James Comey colluded with Barry, or Trump, or maybe both. And of course, the real biggie: the President of the United States colluded with the Russian government.

People, stop already. You’re throwing around the word “collusion” in place of the words you should be using to describe the things you’re actually trying to describe. Collusion is, by it’s very definition, a secretive quid pro quo arrangement whose aims are so nefarious the very history of the world would be changed. By it’s very definition, it goes beyond corruption as we normally think of it. Bribery, extortion, conspiracy – those all pale in comparison. Yet, in almost every case I keep hearing cited by the MSM, the right- and the left-wing alternatives, nothing actually rises to the level of collusion.

The reason I’m bringing this up is simple. After being unable to win any national election not featuring Barack Obama for a decade, the Democratic Party and their media shills have come to realize that a platform based on sowing division and silly “social justice” issues isn’t working. But lacking an alternative, they have seized on an issue that would be a sure-fire winner, if it were true: the President of the United States is a traitor. Make no mistake about it. That is what they are claiming every time you hear a Democrat politician talk about collusion. Every time Rachel Maddow spins a Glenn Beck-ist conspiracy theory tying the President’s youngest son’s hamster to the FSB, she’s claiming the President is a traitor. Every time Chuck Todd writes (as he did this morning) “The bombshell New York Times report from Sunday afternoon might not be the smoking gun in the Trump-Russia 2016 story, but it sure looks close to one,” he’s claiming the President is a traitor.

This is the worst kind of politics, in which innuendo is claimed as fact in order to hurl the most serious of all charges at a political opponent. Anyone who regularly follows this blog, or my social media feeds, already knows I am not a fan of the President. I think he is a dishonest, self-dealing, narcissistic, unprincipled human being of such poor character he should never be anywhere near public service. But it’s one thing to find a person’s character lacking and quite another to think them a traitor. It’s fine to disagree with someone on policy choices. It is quite another to say those policy choices are treasonous.

None of this is to say that I don’t think the Russians did their level best to interfere in the election on the President’s behalf. Of course they did. Vladimir Putin is as trustworthy as a desert scorpion and has been part of Russian attempts at destabilizing the US government since 1976. But a big part of the reason the FSB and SVR were as successful as they were in 2016 was because the Democrats ran Hillary Clinton, who staffed her campaign team with Clinton loyalists from the 1990’s. Their candidate was the only person in America whose character was even more questionable than that of Donald J. Trump.

Indeed, if the President weren’t such a blatant narcissist, this story would have been put to bed long before he even took the oath of office. All he would have had to say last fall was, “Sure the Russians interfered. But their interference amounted to reminding the American people why they hated the Clintons” and the whole story would have been over. But that deep-seated character defect does not allow him to acknowledge that anyone else might have had a hand in his victory. So be it.

I am certain the rest of the summer will be consumed by this nothingburger of a story, to the detriment of the major policy decisions we need to grapple with before October. That’s a shame. But if you claim to be part of the #resistance, than you are just as guilty. You’ve moved from principled opposition to a flat-out attempt to remove a duly elected President.

Now THAT’S treason.


Stop Using the Clinton Defense


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If there’s one thing the latest political kerfluffle has revealed, it is the lengths which some Trumpkins will go to defend the indefensible.

I’m not talking about the morons who either don’t care about, or don’t understand, the national security implications of divulging allied deep-cover intelligence operations to the Russians. I’m not referring to the people who think a President trying to derail investigations into his associates is just peachy. Those people will never be happy living in anything less than a dictatorship, and there is no hope for them.

The people I am directing these comments to are the ones who know the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is engaging in (at best) immoral and irregular activities or (at worst) about to plunge the nation into a crisis that will make the Watergate era look like the days of wine and roses. Instead of admitting their guy has character flaws that are manifesting themselves daily, they attempt to justify it with statements like:

“When is Hillary getting locked up?”

“What about the tarmac?”

“Seth Rich! Seth Rich!”

Yes, there is a Trump Derangement Syndrome on the left. That is indisputable, unless you suffer from it (in which case, I know a good psychiatrist). But it also shows there is still a Clinton Derangement Syndrome running rampant through the right. Just like those with TDS can’t self-identify their problem, the same seems to be the case with CDS on the right.

If you are one of those people, I have a news flash for you: SHE LOST.

The result of that loss is a fate far worse than jail for someone who’s entire way of life was built on running a political machine. The machine was taken away. The money, the swag, the hobnobbing, the ability to influence others – all gone. The Clinton’s find themselves in political purgatory, which is a fitting place for them.

Now, here’s the thing: trying to excuse Donald Trump’s excesses by complaining about the Clinton’s only does one thing, in the end. It says to rational people that you think what the Clinton’s did would be just fine, if only they had put an elephant on their family crest instead of a donkey. You undercut your own arguments by suggesting that what was fine for one was terrible for the other.

Here’s your reality check. If the Clinton’s actions (attempting to influence investigations into political corruption, stealing public funds, etc, etc) are reprehensible, what makes those same actions by the Trump’s any less reprehensible? There is an old adage: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

You would be well served to remember that.

 


President Trump, Russophile?


The dominant political news of the week was the dismissal of Lt. Michael Flynn (ret.), President Trump’s first National Security Advisor. His abrupt departure brought back a few issues that should have been answered during the fall campaign, but weren’t. In a multi-part series, I’ll be examining the following:
1. Were the leaks that led to Flynn’s ouster justified? Are leaks ever justified?
2. Is the President’s Russophilia damaging to his Presidency and the nation writ large?
3. Should career civil servants place greater emphasis on conscience or policy?

It’s been a nagging question for something like 18 months now: what is the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin? The questions first arose during the campaign, when Trump seemed to be sending public love notes to Putin. The questions reappeared after President Trump, rather than accept that Putin is a diabolical dictator, preferred to argue that the US government operates in the same nefarious manner as the Russian. And they roared into prominence this week, with the revelations about former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s tête-à-tête with the Russian ambassador and the leaks about the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russian SVR.

The President’s conduct towards Russia and Vladimir Putin certainly engender some questions.

1. Why is Trump so reluctant to condemn Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular?
I’ve given this some thought, and I have a sort of good news/bad news idea about the subject. The good news: I do not think President Trump is being blackmailed by, or in any other way criminally beholden to the Russian Federation. Do I think he has business interests there? It would be ludicrous to think a man who once held a beauty pageant in Moscow and has at least minority interests in resort properties around the world doesn’t have some sort of similar arrangements in Russia. Do I think those holdings are substantial enough that the Russian government could leverage them to their advantage? No. Not even someone as vain as Donald Trump would be willingly complicit in treason over a few hotel rooms. If he is, then we’ve plumbed new depths of depravity.

I suspect the reason is simpler, but far more disturbing. Based on public statements going back nearly 30 years, I believe our President wants to be Vladimir Putin. He admires and respects the way Putin handles things, with an autocratic iron fist wrapped in a cement glove. Killing political opponents? Perfectly fine (remember, Trump once praised the Chinese for running down dissenters with tanks). Invading foreign countries and plundering them? It’s cool – just keep the oil. Operating above, below and in conflict with established law? From abusing eminent domain in the 1980’s to his “so-called judges” remarks in the last few weeks, Trump has consistently demonstrated that he thinks laws apply to everyone BUT him. Even Stephen Miller’s outburst last Sunday (“the President’s authority will not be questioned!”) demonstrates a very totalitarian view of government, the kind of government prevented by our Constitution. That he’s constrained by the Constitution and its provisions against executive overreach galls Trump (and, sadly, his supporters) to no end. Putin has no such constraints and when he did, he was able to just ignore them until the Russian constitution was changed.

2. Why was his campaign in “constant” contact with Russian officials?
This is, of course, still unproven. However, the fact is that there is an investigation into the likelihood of contact between the SVR and the Make America Great Again campaign, and that it’s been partially leaked, suggest there’s more than just smoke to this question. As for why it would have occurred, see the above conclusion that Donald J. Trump stars in “Crazy about Vladdy.” The one thing that nobody seems to recall is that Vladimir Putin actually won a democratic election in 2000, on a platform eerily similar to the one Donald Trump ran on in 2016. If the person you venerate over all others might be in a position to offer advice and encouragement, any of us would seek their counsel.

3. Why didn’t Trump tell Vice President Pence that former national security adviser Mike Flynn wasn’t being honest about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador?
3a. Why wasn’t Flynn fired the second Trump learned he was deceiving the vice president? 

Once again, if the President is attempting to model his administration on that of his favorite Russian dictator, neither of these questions is difficult to answer. In fact, they both have the same answer: Flynn was ordered to lie to Pence by Trump. As to why Trump would have Pence lied to, there are two reasons. The first is that Trump was certainly aware that having Flynn reach out to the Russian ambassador regarding the latest Obama sanctions was a clear violation of the Logan Act. He also knows that despite decades in public office, nobody has ever accused Mike Pence of malfeasance or corruption. He knew then that Pence’s reaction would, at best, be another tepid endorsement of the President’s orders and Flynn’s duplicity in carrying them out.

The  other thing  to remember on this point is that part of Vlad’s governing style, and one that has thus far proven true of Trump’s, is a dedication to the idea of equal but rival teams in open competition. Pence is the de facto leader of the ‘establishment’ group. Flynn was very much part of the ‘apocalyptic’  group. In effect, Trump was already pitting those two groups against each other before he even took office. That he waited nearly 72 hours before firing Flynn after the first revelations about that phone call, and Flynn’s duplicity towards Pence, looks for all the world like Trump was waiting to see if there would be any blow-back on Pence. After all, Trump is also aware that of all the people in his administration, the two most admired on Capitol Hill are Mike Pence and James Mattis. Pence, being his Constitutionally appointed successor should he be unable to complete his term, therefore presents a clear and pressing danger. The fact that unlike Obama with Joe Biden, or George HW Bush with Dan Qualyle, his VP is considered one of the few sane members of his inner circle poses the threat, essentially giving cover to Democrats  if they decide to implement clause 4 of the 25th Amendment.

The larger question that needs to be answered is: does the President’s infatuation with Russian style politics and deep admiration of authoritarianism endanger the nation? So far, the answer is not in any lasting way. The Constitution was written by men who were intimately familiar with being ruled by a tyrant and designed to ensure that no one person could unilaterally impose his will on the government. As they intended, the structures they built have soundly defeated Trump’s every move to emulate his idol’s governing style, much to his chagrin. The separation of powers works.

That is not to say Trump cannot inflict serious damage, at least on the United States and the western democracies strategic position. But dealing a fatal blow to the Constitution does appear to be beyond his scope.

There are other questions, but we don’t have enough information to speculate on the answers. For instance, who in the campaign was speaking to the Russians? Are they now in the administration? Were any of those people responsible for the leaks to the Washington Post that started this ball of wax? The President could, of course, put an end to all this by issuing a statement that answers those questions.

But then again, we know Trump isn’t about to do that. He’ll continue his current method of dealing with this crisis, attacking the press for asking the questions and attacking the leaks themselves. Because, after all, that’s what Vladimir would do.


Leaks vs. Whistleblowers


The dominant political news of the week was the dismissal of Lt. Michael Flynn (ret.), President Trump’s first National Security Advisor. His abrupt departure brought back a few issues that should have been answered during the fall campaign, but weren’t. In a multi-part series, I’ll be examining the following:
1. Were the leaks that led to Flynn’s ouster justified? Are leaks ever justified?
2. Is the President’s Russophilia damaging to his Presidency and the nation writ large?
3. Should career civil servants place greater emphasis on conscience or policy?

One of the more interesting results of the Flynn Fiasco is the President’s relentless damning of the news articles that forced his hand and the leaks that made those news articles possible. While part of the attacks are typical hubris that nobody, except the Trumpers, takes seriously (sorry, the stories weren’t “fake news”), as with all good propaganda there is an element of truth to them. We’re all aware that Trump takes criticism about as well as a child. Those stories weren’t the opinion-filled pieces that Trump has been able to dismiss as terrible journalism. They are hard-hitting, factual articles that were made possible by the type of inside information that isn’t ever supposed to see newsprint.

In short, the President is rightly incensed about the leaks which have plagued his administration from Day 1. Regardless of the fact that we know Trump values personal loyalty above all other traits, leaks of this sort can constitute a national security threat.Take away that Trump feels personally slighted by what he perceives as an internal attack from the “deep state,” and we’re still left with the reality that someone (or several someone’s) within the National Security Council staff went and blabbed to the Washington Post about Flynn’s violations of the Logan Act, and to the New York Times and CNN about the Trump presidential campaign’s contacts with the Russian intel services as far back as 2015.

Americans have always had a love/hate relationship with government leaks. We celebrate Mark Felt, the leaker later famously revealed as “Deep Throat,” whose information exposed the corruption and malfeasance of the Nixon administration. We vilify Bradley Manning, whose leaking apparently drove him/her/it to finally lose whatever grasp on reality him/her/it ever had. Then there are figures like Edward Snowden, about whom we are ambivalent: the leaks were damaging and showed illegal government activity, but we can’t quite make up our mind whether he’s a whistleblower, a pawn or a traitor.

Now add in that often, our government will purposely leak information. Whether it’s Scooter Libby giving David Ignatius “deep background” about Iraqi WMD, or James Jones’ leaking Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Afghan plan, the previous two administrations have used strategically timed leaks from the National Security Council to advance their agenda. That’s not inconsequential; the last 16 years have seen increasingly aggressive actions against leakers.

So the question before us is this: when is a leaker a whistleblower? Felt was undoubtedly a whistleblower, Manning a leaker.

The answer seems to be more one of public opinion than anything else. Had the nation simply shrugged off the Constitutional breaches of Richard Nixon as “Nixon being Nixon” and “politics as usual,” Jeffrey Zeifman would have been tasked with hounding Woodward and Bernstein to reveal their source. If we had publicly decided that Wikileak’s publication of Manning’s data dump revealed a pattern of illegal conduct by US forces, he might not be trying to get the taxpayers to pay for having his genitals whacked off. As for Mr. Snowden, he will probably find himself in permanent exile – while the NSA spying certainly violated the 4th Amendment, that Constitutional protection isn’t terribly popular at the moment.

Another factor is whether the government wants to pursue charges against the leaker. An example of such a situation is Scott Davis, the man responsible for exposing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs allowing veterans to die before ever seeing a doctor. He leaked internal documents showing VA was well aware of the problem but not doing anything to address it, a clear violation of 18 USC 793, 794. Yet, even the notoriously anti-leak Obama administration passed on filing charges against Davis. This was despite the  fact that few leaks embarrassed the former President quite as badly as the revelation that even as he was sending American servicemen into  harm’s way, he was turning a blind eye to their care upon their return.

And so, in this way, we’ll be able to eventually determine which of these leaks merit whistleblower status. That Gen. Flynn broke the law is beyond doubt; that he demonstrated woefully poor discretion likewise. (Seriously, a career spook who didn’t know a phone call to the Russian ambassador was being recorded by both the NSA and the Russian FSB? That’s…terrible). The level of demonstrated incompetence alone should have resulted in his dismissal, much less the willful lying to the Vice President.  Similarly, if the ties between the Russian intel service and the Trump campaign are proven, then those leakers will likely rise in American lore to match that of Deep Throat. If it results in nothing more than innuendo, the President will be fully justified in rooting out and charging the people responsible.