Thursday, March 30, 2017

MORNING PETE: MAJOR ISSUES #2 The Role of the Federal Government (Part 1: Trump’s Budget)

The March 18 release of President Trump’s budget proposal to Congress provides us with a clear view of how he (and his close advisors, particularly his budget director, Mick Mulvaney) intend to dramatically reduce the important role that the federal government has played in American life since 1933 when the first of the New Deal policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt began the transformation away from the conservative laissez-faire economic policies of Republican Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover that helped create the conditions for the Great Depression.

While Trump’s campaign rhetoric about “draining the swamp in Washington” should have prepared us for such a budget, not since the New Deal have we seen a budget that so clearly and dramatically alters the role of the federal government in place during a prior administration.

Our first glimpse of the ways in which the Trump/Bannon cabal intend to dismember the “administrative state,” as they have dubbed it, was the stream of Executive Orders from the White House during the first six weeks after the inauguration. This was closely paralleled by a flurry of barely-noticed deregulatory bills passed by the Senate that are indicative of how the McConnell-driven Senate might work hand-in-glove with the White House to remake the federal government to be unabashedly pro-big business or, at the very least, laissez-faire. Then, Paul Ryan’s March 6 release of his proposed  “American Health Care Act” showed clearly that he and a small group of House leaders also intend to greatly reduce the role of the federal government in addressing the basic needs of ordinary Americans, starting with access to affordable healthcare.

In order to understand the magnitude of this reduction in the role of the federal government, it may be instructive to consider the last 40 years of American politics, starting with the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976. By doing so, we may see that 2 major ideological struggles about the proper role of the federal government have been at the heart of American politics during this period:

1. The long standing tension between the powers of the states and those of the federal government, which has haunted the American Federalist system since the Founders  first debated this matter while creating the Constitution, and which has been a North/South divide, intertwined with issues of race, ever since. 

Consider the following race-related historical examples of the tension between States Rights and Federalism: slavery, abolition, the various free-state/slave-state compromises, secession of the Southern states, the Civil War, Radical Reconstruction, the KKK, Jim Crow Laws, lynchings, racially segregated schools in the South and the 1954 Supreme Court-ordered desegregation of those schools, the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960’s and the murders of civil rights workers in the South, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the assassinations of Medgar Evers in 1963 and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968; and more recently: voter suppression, Stand Your Ground and similar state laws, Ferguson and other police shootings of Black men, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Confederate Flag controversies in the South.


2. The pendulum swings between Progressivism and Conservatism that have dominated social and economic policy responses to the growth of capitalism over the past century: from the Trust Busting presidency of Teddy Roosevelt to 20 or so years of Laissez-Faire economic policies by the next 5 presidents who followed him (including Democrat, Woodrow Wilson) then back to FDR’s ground-changing New Deal followed by Truman’s progressive Square Deal then a swing back to President Reagan’s anti-New Deal conservatism (exemplified by his famous statement “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem" and then back again to Obama’s progressive Affordable Care Act and Executive Orders regarding civil and human rights. 

The actions and intentions of Trump, Bannon, Ryan, McConnell et al to dismantle the “administrative state” and get rid of  “nanny” state policies can certainly be seen as being the latest and most extreme swing of this pendulum since the New Deal.

It may also be instructive to consider two somewhat smaller debates regarding the proper role of the federal government that seem to be at play at this time: 


1. The foreign policy debate between isolationism and interventionism, the former often (but not always) accompanied by nationalism and/or xenophobia and the latter often (but not always) resulting in protracted and unpopular wars. 

2. The constitutional debates on a wide range of social issues that grow out of a longstanding tension between libertarian insistence on individual liberties and liberal commitment to equal protection under the laws. 

This tension is often played out in federal court cases on issues such as racial discrimination in housing, abortion, affirmative action, capital punishment, marriage equality, gun control, religious freedom, free speech, and criminal justice. Moreover, over the past 40 years, these tensions have poisoned the process of appointing federal judges to the extent that there are virtual ideological “tests” of a president’s appointments to the Supreme Court.

So when you read Budget Director Mulvaney’s claims that elimination of certain programs (such as Meals on Wheels for seniors) and the drastic reduction in funding certain executive departments (like the Environmental Protection Agency) are being undertaken simply to reduce waste and inefficiency, don’t believe a word of it. 

While no one would deny that there is waste and inefficiency in government, the idea that this is really the goal of the budget is palpably false. First of all, this is nothing new: such efficiencies and reductions in waste have, in fact, been carried out in every administration since Jimmy Carter’s (1976-80). But, even more important: even if every remaining bit of waste were to be eliminated and every possible efficiency carried out, this would barely budge the needle of the likely $4 trillion budget, let alone the probably $500 million annual deficit, or our roughly $14 trillion national debt. 

So what’s really going on with this budget?

Even a cursory analysis of what is being eliminated or greatly reduced shows clearly that this is an unabashedly pro-business budget that seeks to do away with most government regulation of business and to privatize as much federal government activity as possible; i.e. reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

It is, moreover, a budget designed to achieve the longtime goal of Tea Party Congressional budget hawks (of whom Mulvaney was a key leader until he left the House to become Trump’s Budget Director): to dramatically reduce the absolute size of government in order to substantially reduce taxes (primarily on the wealthy, who have been falsely dubbed “job creators” by anti-Tax proponents like Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform). 

Indeed, it was Norquist who famously revealed (in a May 2001 NPR interview) the truth about the conservative Republican drive to greatly reduce the size of government: “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

Thus, we should be very clear that the Trump administration and the Republican Congress intend to dramatically reduce the role of the government in American life.

How likely are they to succeed in this effort?

Unlike the Executive orders and the Senate deregulation bills---most of which were barely mentioned in the media and so were unnoticed by most Americans--- the Trump budget and the RyanCare bill have already been met with strong (mostly negative) reactions by politicians, media commentators, organizations, and ordinary citizens across the political spectrum. So, I think it fair to expect that the coming debates on these two measures in Congress (and in the media) will give us further insights into the very wide range of views in this country about the proper role of the federal government.

I believe we can also expect that, under the influence of lobbyists, the media, and “public opinion” and through the usual messy “sausage-making” of Congress, both the budget and the health care bill will be much altered before they are passed by Congress and signed by the President, so it remains to be seen exactly how the role of the federal government will be changed by Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress.

The Budget, itself

In the meantime, let us look beneath the covers of the Trump/Mulvaney budget to see what it is proposing to do, as reported in a couple of easy-to-follow graphic explanations:


And here is just one article, Trump Takes Gamble in Cutting Funding for Agencies That Aid His Base, which (1) lays out Mulvaney’s stated reasoning behind the budget, (2) describes just some of the opposition to various aspects of it by Democrats, Republicans, and even some conservatives, and (3) identifies some aspects of the budget that will negatively impact many who voted for Trump.

Here are my take-aways from these articles:

First of all, consider that the budget has been described by the White House as a “muscular” budget, an America First budget. This is clearly something Donald Trump wants and needs to feel powerful (Military Spending), to feel loved by his base (the Wall), and to succeed where he perceives that recent past presidents have failed (defeat Islamic terrorism and North Korea; stand up to China and Europe on trade, etc.)

Further, as Budget Director Mulvaney explained to the press: 
What did you expect? This budget reflects almost everything that Trump, the candidate, said he would do. In that sense, it is an aspirational declaration, not a practical one.

So, if this budget is merely aspirational, what might a budget that eventually passes look like?

In my opinion: 

1. It will probably be less draconian in order to get the support needed from moderate Republicans (yes, there are still a few).

2. That said, it will nevertheless likely be devastating to the poor, make life very difficult for the working poor, disappoint and frustrate the middle class, and be a totally unnecessary boon to the wealthy.

3. Moreover, it could cripple efforts to address such pressing problems as Climate Change, Poverty, and Healthcare.

4. However, in order to pass, the budget will need to include spending that may not now be in it for: programs that are popular with most Republicans like support for local law enforcement and the NIH; projects that allow Republican Congresspersons to “bring home the bacon” to their states and districts; pet projects of key Republican supporters; products and services that business lobbyists press for; widely popular entities like the National Park system, NPR & PBS, and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities; as well as government agency activities that are simply too vital to be hamstrung by inadequate budgets (e.g., the CDC, FAA, NSF, IRS, etc.).
5. Probably, the biggest obstacle that Congress will face in trying to agree on some kind of compromise budget will be the challenge of resolving competing ideological positions among Republicans: fiscal conservative political leaders like Paul Ryan; uncompromising ultra-Conservative members in both houses of Congress; right-wing radio talk hosts and their listeners; moderate Republican elected officials like Senators Susan Collins and John McCain; Libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul; as well as conservative organizations like The Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, and the various Koch brothers’ organizations. They may even need the support of Blue Dog Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin.

6. And then there’s the challenge to Congress of doing all of the above and yet passing a budget that Trump can “live with”, one that will satisfy his need for a “muscular” budget.

7. Finally,  here’s the scariest part, the part that most Americans probably don’t realize is coming. Listen to what Budget Director Mulvaney stated in a March 16 news conference: “The budget blueprint [aka the "skinny budget," which addresses only so-called discretionary spending], again, does not deal with the debt. It doesn’t even deal with the deficit. It is simply the first part of the appropriations process.” This is where conservatives can do real and lasting damage to the role of the federal government in American life: an all out attack on the safety nets of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Signing off for awhile.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Morning Pete: But, as an Optimist, What Concerns me about the Future

In my last post, I wrote about why I am optimistic about the future, but that does not mean I am complacent about it. Optimists do not stand by and simply hope that matters will improve; they struggle against obstacles, no matter how insurmountable they may seem, with the faith that these can and will be overcome (someday).

In my opinion, in order to overcome obstacles it is necessary to understand them very clearly, which is what concerns me about the major challenges we are facing in the world today: too many people have a poor understanding of these issues, making them prey to those who would exploit their ignorance for their own ends.

Let me briefly (I hope) explain how I see this currently playing out in America’s political and societal environment. To do this we need to look at:

  1. The Issues
  2. The truths (and lies) behind these issues
  3. Possible solutions (or at least directions in which to seek solutions)

The Issues
Listed below are some of the major issues that are currently controversial and/or are likely to be so over the next 5-10 years; I’d welcome readers’ thoughts about other important issues they may wish to add to this list.

Here, I have tried to list these issues in as neutral language as possible; in later posts in which I’ll discuss the truths (and lies) behind these issues, I’ll indicate how various players identify, define, and frame each of these issues.

For most of these major issues, I’ve also listed some sub-issues, with the understanding that many of these can be viewed as cutting across more than one major issue (e.g., drug abuse, nutrition, and income inequality could be listed under several major issues).

  • Climate change and energy policies
  • Foreign Policy (including US and UN roles in war & peace in the middle east, the far east, Russia and eastern Europe, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as trade policies, environmental and other treaties, foreign aid, diplomacy, arms dealing, and nuclear arms control)
  • Health Care (including costs, access, and insurance coverage) and Public Health (including preventative healthcare, vaccination, nutrition, drug abuse)
  • The U.S. Economy (including international trade, jobs, unemployment & underemployment, living & stagnant wages, family leave & affordable daycare, extreme economic inequality, unions & “right to work” laws, Wall St. regulation, consumer protection, business deregulation, tax reform)
  • National Security (including terrorism, travel bans, the Wall, torture)
  • Immigration (including definitional, humanitarian, economic, psychological, political, historical, and legal dimensions of this issue)
  • Crime and Criminal Justice (including law enforcement & race, gun rights & gun control, child & other domestic abuse, campus assaults, sentencing reform, reintegration of ex-felons into society, privatization of prisons, the death penalty)
  • Race relations and racism (including institutional discrimination in housing, education, jobs, voting, and law enforcement; increasing de facto segregation [especially in the North], Black Lives Matter, White Supremacists & Alt-Right organizations )
  • Poverty (including food insecurity, drug abuse, homelessness, despair)
  • Religious, moral, ethical, & Constitutional Issues (including abortion, marriage equality, LGBT rights, freedom of religion, the death penalty)
  • Electoral Issues (including voter fraud, voter suppression, electoral v. popular vote, campaign finance, gerrymandering, open primaries)
  • The Federal Government (including its size, waste & inefficiency, cost & the national debt; its role(s) in protecting the rights of individuals, especially the poor and those who are discriminated against; its role in monitoring states rights v. individual rights; its role in regulation & deregulation; the separation of powers & checks and balances; the Supreme Court & the Constitution; the functioning & dysfunction in Congress; the pros and cons of a powerful Executive Branch
  • Education (including public schools & school choice, universal pre-k, costs of higher education, student college debt, free speech & “safe spaces” )

When I return from our month-long trip to the Far East in late April, I will begin to write posts on each of these major issues, laying out the truths and lies behind them and what I see as directions to overcome the challenges that each presents.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Morning Pete: Why I am Optimistic about the Future

This morning’s Ides of March (3/15/17) NY Times contained an Op-Ed piece entitled Yes, Trump Is Being Held Accountable” by Jack Goldsmith, which confirms for me several of the reasons, all stemming from our Constitution, that I have been feeling optimistic about the future despite Trump’s election:
  1. The coverage by the free press (1st Amendment) of Trump’s administration, campaign associates, and appointees (esp. Jeff Sessions), as well as  the Republican-controlled Congress.
  2. Investigations of Russian interference with the U.S. presidential elections now underway in bipartisan committees in both houses of the Legislative Branch (Separation of Powers), which could lead to impeachment (Article II, Section 4) if it were determined that Trump, himself, had committed “crimes and misdemeanors” and, at the very, least seems likely to lead to criminal charges against various Trump associates, which would prove to be humiliating to the severely thin-skinned, Trump.
  3. The concurrent (and apparently co-operating) FBI investigations of Russian interference; although the FBI is part of the Department of Justice of the Executive Branch, it operates with a high degree of independence and protection from interference by other parts of the Executive Branch, including the President and his staff. (Checks and Balances).

I would add to Goldsmith’s list:
  1. The rulings (to date) of Federal Judges (Judicial Branch) on matters such as the unconstitutional Muslim Travel Ban (Separation of Powers) and possible rulings on other lawsuits in the works on constitutional issues such as “the emoluments clause” (Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution) and states’ rights (10th Amendment et al)
  2. The Voice of the People (Vox Populi) exercising its constitutionally-protected Free Speech (1st Amendment), which has already begun to be effective in influencing elected officials through countless marches, demonstrations, and Town Hall & other protests, including spoken and written protests by ordinary citizens across the political spectrum, as well as scientists, politicians, celebrities, former government officials, etc.

Goldsmith, who was a former assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and is currently a senior fellow at the relatively conservative Hoover Institution (as well as a professor at Harvard Law School), concludes his article in this way:

It’s true that the process of accountability is halting and frustratingly slow. But this is as it should be. The stakes could not be higher for our democracy. Ascertaining the truth is vital, and respect for the innocent is as important as identification of wrongdoing. It is thus crucial that the complex and elusive facts be sorted out in a fair and procedurally rigorous manner, and that the law be applied with deliberation and good judgment.
Justice seems elusive here because it is so plodding. But plodding justice is our best chance for a legitimate resolution to this mess.
And, although I am to the far left of Goldsmith, I , too, would urge patience. These things take time, but from my observations throughout various crises like this (e.g. The Army-McCarthy hearings during the Eisenhower Administration, Watergate under Nixon, Irangate under Reagan, and the Bill Clinton Impeachment proceedings: The Truth Will Out.

Monday, March 13, 2017

TAKING A BREAK FROM YOU-KNOW-WHO

There are two words that didn’t appear anywhere in yesterday’s Sunday Review articles: “Donald” and “Trump.” 

So begins "An Issue Without Trump,: David Leonhardt's March 13 piece in the NY Times Opinion Today newsletter. Below is that piece in full.

Enjoy!


There are two words that didn’t appear anywhere in yesterday’s Sunday Review articles: “Donald” and “Trump.” If you want to see for yourself,  I’ve included links to every article below.

The Op-Ed editor, Jim Dao, came up with the idea in response to Trump’s dominance of the national conversation. As Rachel Dry, the lead editor of the Sunday Review, explained: 
“Our ambitions with this Sunday Review were twofold: To highlight stories we think are important and engaging and to put forward an argument about the media attention the president commands. We decided not to overexplain the premise — though of course, that is what I’m doing now — and hoped readers would find the section of interest whether they noticed anything different or not.”The closest the print section came to acknowledging its theme was what journalists call a “refer” — a short summary of an article elsewhere — that appeared atop the section’s cover. It read: “What happens when you don’t talk about the one thing on everyone’s mind” and referred to a piece inside by the comedian Joe Zimmerman. 
Much of the attention to Trump is warranted, of course. In fact, it’s important. But it does have an unfortunate side effect: It crowds out discussion of other vital topics. In the weeks ahead, I’d encourage everyone to carve out some space in their lives and brains for non-Trump topics.
 The full roster of Sunday Review articles:

Friday, March 10, 2017

TRUMP WATCH #21: Did President Trump Just Commit his First Truly Impeachable Offense?

I know, I know, I’ve been promising to focus on issues, not on Trump, but I just don’t seem to be able to ignore the highly unusual (bizarre?) events related to the Trump-Russia connection. I had thought that my post “Are We in a Watergate Moment?” would act as a purgative, allowing me to move on to the issues, but then… over the weekend (March 3-4) Trump broke with his habit of calming down when at Mar-a-Lago and instead exploded at his staff, blaming them for his “defeat” over Jeff Sessions’ recusal and for the House Leadership Committee's mishandling of the ACA "repeal and replace” process. And then, over Twitter, Trump shockingly accused President Obama of tapping his (Trump’s) phones

So, here we go again; I just can’t ignore this serious and unprecedented accusation of a former President by a sitting-President.

I am not a constitutional lawyer, but Noah Feldman is; and his article in BloombergView
“Trump's Wiretap Tweets Raise Risk of Impeachment,” (3/6/17)  presents an interesting legal argument that Trump’s accusation that President Obama ordered Trump’s phones to be tapped could be grounds for his impeachment by Congress.

I suggest you read the article and “judge” for yourself; it could be that the Senate will eventually have to make the real judgement as to whether this time Trump (now as President) has gone too far in his wild and unsupported accusations.

Meanwhile, you might want to consider the deafening silence on this issue on the part of the White House since Trump’s initial Twitter explosions. Is it possible that the White House lawyers have advised his staff that although a sitting President may not be charged with crimes such as “false and defamatory speech” (except via Congressional impeachment proceedings), anyone else in the country (including presidential advisors) may be charged with such crimes?

Consider, too, the strange denial that presidential spokesman, Sean Spicer, was apparently told to read to the press (3/7/17): “There is no reason that we have to think the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever.”  As a NY Times article about this pointed out:
"Mr. Spicer’s statement, which he read from a sheet of paper that was handed to him at the end of his briefing, reinforced the conundrum Mr. Trump’s tweets have created for the White House: Either the president’s assertions are baseless, or he may have implicated himself in a government investigation of contacts between his presidential campaign and Russia."
  
Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

MORNING PETE: FLASH UPDATE ON TRUMP WATCH #20--- HOUSE of CARDS, ANYONE?



Nicholas Kristoff's Op-Ed piece "Connecting Trump's Dots to Russia" in this morning's NYTimes (March 9) very clearly summarizes the actual facts, "alternative facts," and probable truth about the Trump-Russia connections. I could do no better, so rather than try, I strongly recommend that you read this.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MORNING PETE: UPDATE ON ISSUE #1 AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE

THE REPUBLICAN PLAN FOR REPEAL AND REPLACE OF THE ACA


Most of you are no doubt aware that yesterday (March 7), Paul Ryan revealed the House plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (aka: Obamacare). It immediately became clear that this plan--- developed behind closed doors with zero participation by Democrats or Health Insurance Companies or, apparently, many Republican congresspersons--- is going to please almost no one.


The first four paragraphs of today’s (3/8/17)  NY Times article G.O.P. Health Bill Faces Revolt From Conservative Forces” says it all:


After seven years of waiting longingly to annul President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Republican leaders on Tuesday faced a sudden revolt from the right that threatened their proposal to remake the American health care system.
[Ed: The right doesn’t like it one bit]
The much-anticipated House plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act also drew skepticism from some of the party’s more moderate members, whose constituents have benefited from expanded coverage in recent years.
[ Ed. Neither do moderates whose constituents have greatly benefitted from Obamacare]
The criticism came even before lawmakers knew the cost of the replacement plan and how many people might lose their health care if it were enacted.
[ Ed. The authors of the plan haven’t even analyzed its cost or how many people will lose coverage under it]
House Republicans were rushing the legislation through two powerful committees — Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce — with the hope of a full House vote next week, an extraordinarily compressed time frame considering that the legislation affects many parts of the United States economy and could alter the health care of millions of Americans.
[Ed. Republicans in both the House and the Senate are planning to ram through  this highly complex and consequential plan in a totally unrealistically fast timeframe, which could only be accomplished by denying almost any input from Democrats, dissident Republicans, the healthcare industry, and, perhaps most importantly American citizens who will be affected by this plan of ending Obamacare and replacing it with……?]
I think the above (and the rest of the article) all point to the conclusion I offered in my previous analysis (Morning Pete’s Issue #1: Affordable Health Care),
In my opinion, the usually enviable position of controlling all 3 branches of government (and the vast majority of state governments) actually puts Republicans in a lose-lose situation. If and when they repeal the ACA, no matter what they come up with as a replacement is going to result in loss of coverage, reduction in benefits, and increased costs for millions upon millions of Americans and, it is also likely to cause chaos and disruption in any sector of the economy that intersects with health care, including the sensitive financial services and insurance sectors. (Anybody remember “Too big to fail?”)
Of course, none of this will be good for the country and it seems likely that Republicans will rightfully be blamed, no matter what they do.
When that happens, if it proves to have significant electoral consequences and Democrats (especially progressive ones) regain real power in state and federal government, I believe we may see a single-payer national insurance system that eliminates the insurance companies from the individual healthcare system (which, by the way may come as a relief since insurance companies historically have preferred less volatile, very predictable markets) and gives the federal government the right and responsibility to jawbone pharmaceutical companies to lower prices.
For another, very interesting analysis of the healthcare reform conundrum, I highly recommend that you read “ Why Republicans Can’t Do Health Care”, written, by of all people, conservative NY Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat. In this piece, Douthat suggests that the healthcare conundrum currently stymying the Republicans may actually be symptomatic of another, far deeper crisis for our country, and perhaps the world. He writes:
… the political scientist Stephen Skowronek...argues that certain presidencies are “disjunctive” — straddling a political order passing into history and another one struggling to be born. And “disjunctive” generally means ineffective, because the parties such presidents are leading are likewise trapped between past and future and unable to unify and act.
Douthat’s further elucidation of this proposition in light of the healthcare debacle,  it seems to me, points implicitly to a point I made in my first post-election post: The Day After the Election: I Choose Optimism over Despair
A pox on both these parties. I believe that the two-party system with all of its electoral flaws is actually beginning to crumble and that by 2020, there will be at least 6 more-or-less viable political parties (3 on the right and 3 on the left) running candidates in local, state, and federal elections.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

TRUMP WATCH #20 Are We in a Watergate Moment?


Some of the events of the past few weeks may feel eerily familiar to many of us who are old enough to have followed the slowly evolving events that began in June 1972 with the odd news of the arrest of “burglars” in the process of breaking-in and bugging Democratic National Committee Headquarters to the finale of this bizarre drama and national trauma more than two years later with President Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974.
For those of you who may not know or remember much about these unusual (even peculiar) events, you may wish to look at the Wikipedia Watergate Timeline ; and for those who have been trying to follow the blizzard of similarly unusual and peculiar events of the past few months related to the possible Trump-Russia connection, you may wish to look at Politico’s Trump-Russian timeline of events
I think you'll notice a number of striking similarities in how these two sets of events slowly evolved over time:
- the bugging of the DNC during presidential campaigns---illegal, but not in themselves consequential crimes
- the unraveling of increasingly convoluted attempts by presidential staff to cover-up for these clumsy activities by lying to the press and members of Congress, a perfect example of how the cover-up is often more serious and damaging than the crime
- the involvement of the intelligence community in investigating the initial “crimes”
- the questionable actions of the heads of the FBI and the CIA
- the firings and resignations of attorney generals and acting attorney generals
- the forced resignations of senior presidential advisors despite their defense by the President
- the call for and resistance to Special Prosecutors
- the ravings of paranoid Presidents
- the possibilities of impeachment
- the roles of Congressional hearings in ultimately bringing out the truth, sometimes, it seems, almost accidentally
- the role of the media in gradually bringing the truth to light
Consider, just some of the events of the past several months related to the alleged Trump-Russia connection:
- The growing body of evidence (throughout November and December) of Russian interference in the recently-concluded U.S. presidential elections (in Trump’s favor) and the instant derision of such reports by Trump and his surrogates who charge that these allegations are simply “ a political witch hunt”---the sour grapes reactions of sore losers
- President Obama’s Dec 29 ejection of 35 Russian intelligence operatives and the imposition of sanctions on Russian intelligence services as retaliation for the apparent Russian election-interference campaign
- The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (January 6) release of an unclassified report on conclusions of the CIA, FBI and NSA about Russian election interference
- The January 10 release of the so-called Dossier, containing allegedly compromising personal and financial information about Trump that the Russians could use to blackmail him; and Trump’s Twitter tirades, not only denying it all, but also accusing the media of being complicit in reporting such “fake news”
- The mid-January (pre-inauguration) news dribbling out about possible contacts that Trump’s national security advisor former-general Michael Flynn had with Russian officials; and VP Mike Pence’s (mistaken) assurance to the press and the American public that Flynn had NOT discussed sanctions with the Russian Ambassador
-The later-revealed January 29 briefing of now-President Trump that was conducted by Acting-Attorney General, Sally Yates, regarding the content of taped conversations of Flynn with the Russian Ambassador, revealing that Flynn had misled Pence on this matter
- The president’s highly unusual firing of acting-AG Yates on January 31, allegedly because of her refusal to carry out the President’s constitutionally questionable Muslim Travel Ban, but significantly just two days after her briefing of Trump about Flynn’s bugged telephone call [Compare the Watergate-related Saturday-night massacre.]
- Jeff Sessions’ Feb 9 confirmation as Attorney General and, on the same day, Trump’s little-noticed Executive Order, changing the order of succession at the Department of Justice if Sessions were to leave office prior to confirmation of Trump’s nominee for Deputy AG [Remember Republican Senator Howard Baker’s question: What did the President [Nixon] know and when did he know it?]
- Flynn’s Feb 13 resignation and Trump’s assertion that Flynn had done nothing wrong in meeting with the Russian Ambassador [Remember, Nixon’s defense of his closest aides, Haldeman and Ehrlichman when they were ultimately forced to resign as their illegal cover-up activities and lies were uncovered.]
- The February 14 revelations in the press and other media about extensive contact during the campaign by Trump campaign staff and others of his associates with Russian officials, followed immediately by Trump’s emphatic Twitter denials and ramped up charges of “fake news” and media conspiracy against him [Shades of Nixon!]
- The March 1 revelation by the Washington Post (less than 3 weeks after Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as AG) of his peculiar denials during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on January 10 of having had any meetings with the Russian Ambassador during the presidential campaign [Compare Alexander Butterfield’s almost accidental revelation in a Congressional hearing of the existence of a taping system in the White House.]
- Sessions' initial refusal to recuse himself from investigations into Russian attempts to influence the U.S. elections (and Trump’s total support of this stance), despite the increasingly vociferous demand by many Democratic congresspersons that Sessions should resign and the increasing pressure from even some Republican Senators that he should recuse himself
- Sessions’ March 2 announcement that he would recuse himself after all, leaving the investigation in the hands of the now-Acting AG, Dana Puente, and notably NOT Sally Yates, who would have been in charge if Trump had not fired her (about a month previously) shortly after she briefed him about Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian Ambassador [Compare Puente’s situation to Robert Bork, the last man standing after the Saturday Night Massacre.]
- Trump’s incredible Twitter accusations that President Obama had ordered the tapping of Trump’s telephones [Even Nixon never went that far in his paranoid ravings.]
- And, it ain't over yet; anyone want to bet on when Sessions will be forced to resign?
So, are we in a Watergate Moment or is it more like an over-the-top episode of House of Cards or a modern-day version of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third? What metaphor would you use to describe the events of the past few months related to the possible Trump-Russia connection? And where do you think it will end?
Personally, I think the truth will out, as it usually does, and that when it does it will be primarily because our constitutionally protected Free Press will exercise their right and responsibility to investigate and report the truth.

NOTE:
Sorry for the long delay since my last post (date). I have had to spend time preparing for our impending month long (March 19-April 19) trip to visit our grandchildren in Shanghai with side trips to other parts of China, as well as Vietnam, & Cambodia. Added to the usual trip prep has been making arrangements for leaving our new house during what is still winter in Vermont AND figuring out how to maintain MORNING PETE and/or TRUMP WATCH while I am in countries from which Internet access and outgoing postings can be uncertain, especially for Google-based communications and social media sites like Facebook. One idea I have been exploring is to see if any of the readers of my posts would be willing to make some guest postings. If you would be interested in doing so, please email me and we can discuss logistics of posting.
Another challenge (and opportunity) that I’ve been working to address is how to manage the increasing number of people requesting that I add them to my mailings and make available my past posts.
- MailChimp has been invaluable for sending new posts via email (instead of large group emails) and has made it quite easy to add people to my mailing list. However, it isn’t well-designed for sending out past posts and authoring in it requires some getting used to and I’m not sure how easy it would be for guests to use for postings.
I have just completed archiving all my posts since the day after the election on Blogger, so that now anyone will be able to find and share past and future posts at morningpete.com
- -Facebook seems to work fine for people who use it regularly, are my “Facebook Friends,” and know how to find my prior postings by entering my name in the search box at the upper left of their Facebook Home Page.
- I am also exploring other media publishing outlets with archiving and notification features like Medium, but so far none seem to particularly easy to use. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

TRUMP WATCH #19: Watch what he does not what he Says


Because of Donald Trump's speech to a joint session of Congress, we interrupt the recently launched issues-based posts of MORNING PETE to return temporarily to TRUMP WATCH

I didn’t watch his speech. I knew it would be a distraction from the issues. What I didn’t quite expect, however, were three things:
  • That his handlers would be able to craft a speech that would “sound” conciliatory, even presidential, while at the same time would let his base know that he was not, in fact, abandoning his promises to them
  • That he would be able to remain pretty much on script throughout this hour-long speech, the second-longest first speech by a new President to a joint session of Congress
  • That online commentators for NPR(and others) would (initially, at least) be taken in by the tone and critique it as if he were a “normal” president.
This last point is the most troubling to me: the media that we depend on to hold Trump’s feet to the fire simply cannot fall into the trap of “normalizing” him. On this, I am in total agreement with Charles Blow’s December 19, 2016 end-of-year NY Times Op-Ed piece Donald Trump, This Is Not Normal!

It was thus encouraging to read in today’s NYTimes a much more skeptical analysis of Trump’s speech, which I recommend that you read and then join me in getting past this temporary distraction and back to the issues. (Stay tuned!)



 * CORRECTION: In my initial post of TRUMP WATCH #19, I inadvertently erred in stating that the online commentators on this speech to the joint session of Congress were from the NY Times rather than NPR. The link I provided was also incorrect; it was to the NY Times annotation of Trump's inaugural speech, not  to his speech to the joint session of Congress.