Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What's a Constitution For?

       During the dark hours of night, missiles blasted Syria’s chemical weapons’ sites and President Trump exalted the success of the strikes on Twitter: “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”  The goal of the United States and its allies is to deter Assad from using more chemical weapons on Syrians.  Last year, Assad used chemical weapons and Trump responded with a missile attack.  It took a year for him to use them again, but use them again, he did.  What will be different this time?

Regardless of how good this response might make some feel, the terrible reality is nothing in Syria will change; Assad will go on brutalizing his people, maiming and killing with impunity those who oppose his rule.  Short of full military intervention, the United States can do nothing to stop the slaughter this tyrant enjoys perpetrating.  And, who knows, if we were to oust or kill Assad, would the violence and killing there stop?  Remember Iraq, anyone?  Assad will continue slaughtering Syrians and after enough time passes, he’ll use chemical weapons again.  So, what do all these fireworks actually accomplish?

For Donald Trump, we don’t have to search for the answer.  This opportunity to strike at Assad enables him to play the compassionate, decisive leader.  Now he can flit repeatedly over twitter self-aggrandizing pronouncements that he hopes will dominate the immediate news cycle and drown all the talk James Comey’s new book is generating.  Unfortunately for Trump, Comey’s book is the slightest of Trump’s problems.  The two investigations, the one in Washington and the recent one in New York involving Michael Cohen, are weaving a net so finely wrought that not even the slippery Trump will be able to slither out of.

Beyond the drama of Trump’s presidency persists a problem even more troubling.  Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the standard rationale for deploying U.S. forces, drones and missiles has been that these military actions are conducted to protect our “freedom and way of life.”  Of course, our freedom and way of life have never been threatened; our safety and peace of  mind, on the other hand have been understandably frightened and potentially endangered by a terrorist detonating a bomb or spraying a crowd with an automatic weapon.  But does the deployment of troops to 149 countries around the world really reduce the possibility of of terrorist attacks?  It’s possible, though I doubt it.  More importantly, has the question of deploying all these troops been seriously examined and debated according to the principles mandated in the Constitution and the War Powers Act?

The Constitution gives only Congress the authority to declare war and the War Powers Act requires the president to inform Congress within 48 hours of of committing military force and limits that use of force to 60 days.  Except for George W. Bush, who sought and received congressional approval for both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars,  presidents before and after him have repeatedly acted without congressional authorization.  Even President Obama violated the Constitution and War Powers Act when he claimed that he needed no congressional authorization for continuing the air campaign in Libya in 2011, for which he received a rebuke from the House of Representatives.  Interestingly, when Obama did seek congressional approval for intervention in Syria, he was maligned by his foes and friends.

Trump has found cover (temporarily) for his troubles.  But the clock ticks and the minutes and hours slide inexorably toward his undoing.  Up to the final moment he falls, I expect he’ll wrap himself in a patriotic charade of more missiles or a military parade.  As he does, maybe the Congress and the people of this country will wake up and finally realize the shameful way we have permitted too many presidents to enlarge their Constitutional authority over the use of the military.  Congress could begin be asserting the authority with which the Constitution has empowered them, and find the courage to constrain what many of the fathers most feared: autocratic presidents.

      And we the people could begin by pressuring congress to stop sending troops into conflicts irrelevant to the United States.  To do that, we must be willing to challenge men such as  General John Kelly and expose what Phil Klay aptly calls “patriotic correctness,” in his excellent opinion piece in The New York Times.  When Americans are repeatedly told to see all U.S. military engagements as hallowed and all those who serve in the armed forces as heroes, questioning and challenging any U.S. military action becomes identified as a desecration of our “pious” patriotism and a blasphemy against the men and women who must be viewed as “sacred.”  The men and women in the armed forces deserve not our adulation, but our support; and the best support we could give them is to keep out of the wars that endanger their lives, but pose no threat to the national security of America.

Link to Phil Klay essay:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Pretenders

On Sunday morning, 4/8/18, Donald Trump tweeted: “‘The ‘Washington Post’ is far more fiction than fact.  Story after story is made up garbage. More like a poorly written novel than good reporting. Always quoting sources (not named), many of which don’t exist.  Story on John Kelly isn’t true, just another hit job.” Shortly after Trump’s angry outburst, Peter Navarro appeared on “Meet the Press” and like a faithful soldier, fired more shots at the Post : “When you read stuff in ‘The Washington Post,’ frankly, that’s fake news most of the time.”  Both these men know full well what they are doing as they work to cripple the most effective means of holding politicians (especially corrupt ones) accountable to the public. As Dean Baquet, editor of “The New York Times” puts it, Trump and his minions’ relentless attacks on the media, and specifically “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times,” are “out of control” and undermining “the civic life and debate of the country.”

Many reporters and pundits have noticed an irony that would be comical if it weren’t depressing of Trump’s, and now Navarro’s, allegations that the two most prominent and important newspapers are fabricating false stories and presenting those stories are factual and true.  But a reasonably close examination of both these men demonstrates that when one lives in glass houses it’s wise to throw no stones.

Peter Navarro holds a P.h.D in economics from Harvard University.  Unlike Trump, he is a man who appears intellectually curious and scholarly.  However, a brief review of his academic work since his graduate school days tells another story.  Over the years, Navarro has strayed from his initial scholarly expertise to expound obsessively on the trade imbalance with China.  That obsession is what pulled him into Trump’s political orbit. Trump, of course, has no capacity to judge Navarro’s level of “expertise.”  And after reading the titles of several of Navarro’s books on China, one might be fooled into thinking Navarro might have worthwhile insights about the trade imbalance with China.  But such thoughts evaporate quickly when one surveys the field of experts on China and learns that Navarro’s views are generally dismissed as those of a shallow crank.

Melissa Chan, writing in “Foreign Policy,” quoted Kenneth Pomeranz, professor of Chinese history at the University of Chicago, who stated that Navarro “generally avoided people who actually know something about [China].”  Chan also cited James McGregor, former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, who noted that “Navarro’s books on China ‘have close to zero credibility with people who know the country.’”

Dan Ikenson, expressed a similar view regarding Navarro’s qualifications as an expert on trade with China: “The economic illiteracy that animates Navarro’s policy prescription is startling.”  Furthermore, Ikenson called the selection of Navarro to head Tramp’s trade commision an “assault on the fundamental premise that public policy should be rooted in fact and reason.” (thehill.com) Finally, Ikenson’s colleague at the Cato Institute, Ryan Bourne, outlines Navarro’s deep ignorance of the economics of trade policy with China in his “The Spectacular Economic Ignorance of Peter Navarro.”  WWW.cato.org

With all of these serious indictments of Navarro’s competence, it is rather shocking that someone so lacking in the requisite qualifications for the position of Director of the White House National Trade Council should have been given such a sensitive and important job.  But as the country has witnessed during Trump’s tenure, flattery counts for much more than competence. Navarro’s own words illustrate that those who work for Trump must speak the tongue that Trump speaks, no matter how specious or flat out false:

“This is the president’s vision. My function, really, as an economist is to try to provide the underlying analytics that confirm his intuition. And his intuition is always right in these matters,” Navarro said. For him, Trump is “The owner, the coach, and the quarterback...The rest of us are all interchangeable parts.” Bloomberg, March 7, 2018

Navarro’s function  is to “confirm [Trump’s] intuition?  And Trump’s “intuition is always right”?  Has spending too much time in the Trump echo chamber rendered Navarro deaf?  Surely he must hear the absurd, propagandistic tone of this statement. Can he seriously believe economic policy should be driven by Trump’s economic instincts, which to put mildly, can be described as crude, crass and ignoble?  Perhaps Navarro is more interested in achieving the public “prestige” and “national recognition he believes he’ll garner from working in the Trump administration; sadly, his already dubious reputation is being annihilated in the process.  When all of his specious ideas and writings about China are alloyed with his sycophantic posturing toward Trump, his moaning about “fake news” becomes all the more utterly ridiculous.

On the other hand, Trump’s howling continually over how “fake news” reports are sullying his “good name” has probably done more harm to the civic discourse, beyond any damage the media could have ever inflicted upon his already deservedly tarnished reputation.  Of course, Trump’s complaints are (like Navarro’s) never rooted in “fact and reason,” since the real facts have exposed the many accurate accounts of his salacious behavior and shady business practices. The media has done excellent work in reporting the gaping flaws in Trump’s decision making process since he been in office.  

Many news organizations have documented his lack of any serious, intellectual depth or open-mindedness when selecting advisors or formulating policy.  Indeed, the process by which he selected Peter Navarro depicts what is woefully lacking in this president’s methods. When he wanted someone to serve as an advisor for his National Trade Council he asked son-in-law “Jared Kushner to find some research supporting his protectionist trade views.  Kushner responded by going on Amazon, where he found a book titled ‘Death by China.’ So he cold-called Navarro...who [then] became the campaign’s first economic advisor.” (Paul Krugman, NY Times).

In the film “Apocalypse Now,” Colonel  Kurtz asks Martin Sheen’s character, Captain Willard, “Are my methods unsound?”  To which Willard responds, “I see no method at all.” Well, Trump has a method, but it is that of an overgrown juvenile who lacks discipline and maturity.  His inability to even remotely comprehend all that was exceedingly wrong with the process he used to hire Navarro demonstrates just how juvenile his mind is.  This same juvenile mentality compels him to obsessively watch “Fox and Friends.” Charles Blow of “The New York Times,” in his op-ed essay, “Horror of Being Governed by ‘Fox & Friends,’” (4/8/18) reminds readers that Trump’s main morning ritual is this three hour program.  The show unctuously massages Trump’s ego, with the hosts tripping over each other to lavish him with praise, and sprinkle talking points for him to tweet frenetically throughout the day. Blow’s essay provides links to articles that substantiate the intentional misrepresentations the hosts disseminate (and on another show that purports to be “Fair and Balanced”), as they  perform their role as a propaganda broadcast for Trump.

The real fabricators of fake news, commentary and disinformation are Trump, Navarro, many in the administration and all those on talk shows and radio programs that continue to make alternative narratives of Orwellian proportions.  The deceit these two particular pretenders, Trump and Navarro, have perpetrated on the American public and their unrelenting attacks on the media, necessitate the strong tonic of an unruly and vociferous genuine media to scald this administration with undiluted truth until Trump’s day of reckoning comes, which given some recent development might be sooner than we could have hoped for.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Not So Invisible Worm

The Sick Rose

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, April 2, 2018
When the snow covered the field and forced the teams to postpone the game, young fans, who might otherwise have enjoyed a day of building snowmen or sledding down hills, felt frustrated that nature had ignored the calendar’s  command for winter to depart. But nevermind. Spring is here and summer isn’t far behind. Soon enough baseball and languid summer afternoons and evenings will repress the memory of an early April snow and we’ll forget nature, or more precisely, weather’s casual indifference to our plans and desires.  

If only we could oblige nature to accommodate our schemes.  To induce the skies to dismiss clouds and beckon the sun at our pleasure.  And yet there are things we do that seem to pressure nature to change her climate or as George Will has scoffed, alter the “planet’s thermostat.”  Climate science has certainly demonstrated that human activity is causing the rising temperatures and seas. Even though it might be too late to halt the momentum of climate change, it would be well worth the effort to try by reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide.  To become, let’s say, genuine stewards of the land, sea and air. President Trump has appointed a man to run the E.P.A. who believes in the credo that humans are “stewards of the earth.”

It is interesting that this “steward” of the earth would work to repeal Obama’s EPA rules that would have increased fuel efficiency and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.  According to Robert Stavins of Harvard, the effect “will be more gas guzzling vehicles on the road, greater total gasoline consumption, and a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions.”  Under the new rules Pruitt proposes, vehicles will consume an additional twelve billion barrels of oil and release an additional six billion tons of carbon dioxide over the lifetime of those vehicles.  But nevermind, The oil and gas companies’ profits will continue to soar to record levels.

Pruitt has also demonstrated a deep sensitivity for issues regarding corporations that burn fossil fuels.  Pruitt, worried about the burden utility companies faced when their disposal of coal ash contaminates drinking water supplies, has eliminated Obama EPA rules that had imposed more restrictions of how coal ash is disposed.  But nevermind, Utilities are saving millions so children can suffer increased learning disabilities, birth defects, asthma and cancer from exposure to the dangerous chemicals in coal ash. For fuller discussion, see:

Pruitt’s stewardship of the environment includes protecting major chemical companies’ interests.  Pruitt met with Dow Chemical executives one month before he refused to ban their dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos.   Pruitt then outdid himself when he lowered the penalty Syngenta was directed to pay by the Obama administration after the company sent twenty farm workers into a field just sprayed with chlorpyrifos.  The EPA under Obama fined Syngenta 4.9 million dollars for exposing those workers to this dangerous chemical. After hiring a former Syngenta lobbyist, Jeff Sands as an advisor, Pruitt slashed that fine to $140,000.  That company had to spend another $400,000 on worker safety training. Steward for the land or steward for industry? Pruitt accommodates his masters religiously, which is fitting given his Christian zealotry. In any case, like the worm he loves his work. But nevermind. The harm he is causing is both near and far.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Young Enough To Be Wiser Than Their Elders

    On Saturday, March 24, hundreds of thousands of young people assembled in the streets of cities around the United States to protest the absurdly lax gun laws in America.  These young people have the good sense to understand that serious national gun regulation is desperately needed, if we are going to reduce the tragically high number of deaths that result from guns.  Their intelligent speeches garnered high praise from left leaning pundits and from many right leaning ones as well. But some on the right, those on the right who fear the inevitable changes that are coming to this country, belittled the young protesters with typical NRA pseudo-patriotic rhetoric and condescending smugness.

    To defend their right to own any weapon they choose, the NRA posted derisive videos on Facebook that described the March For Our Lives protests as a product of the master plan by the liberal and evil elites headquartered in Hollywood:  “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”  

    The first part of that sentence parrots the typical “talking points memo” one hears on right wing radio programs.  Read: lefty billionaire types (Michael Bloomberg), Hollywood elite, (George Clooney,etc) are determined to endanger freedom loving Americans. The second half of the sentence is even more amusing.  Its pretentiousness is perfect for a Hollywood script that could feature John Wayne and Charlton Heston. Maybe like Carrie Fisher, the old duke and Heston could be technologically reanimated to star in a new xenophobic film in which they save America from the threat to “our way of life” the kids from Parkland pose.  The best response to the NRA’s attempt to stir up a paranoid frenzy came from Delaney Tarr, who acutely identified the NRA’s objective in issuing such rhetoric: “This is a movement reliant on the persistence and passion of its people...We cannot move on. If we move on, the NRA and those against us will win. They want us to forget.  They want our voices to be silenced. And they want to retreat into the shadows where they can remain unnoticed. They want to be back on top, unquestioned in their corruption, but we cannot and we will not let that happen.”

Another right wing bully, Matt Verspa of Townhall  sneered “This is not just a fight over the Second...after they’re done with Second Amendment, the great progressive campaign to shred the constitution of its institutional mechanisms that prevent mob rule through transient majorities will begin.”  I wonder what Verspa means by “transient majorities”? Does he fear the shifting demographics of America? Are his words a coded racist message to like minded older, white males? Inexorable as the tides, the population of white men have been is receding just as the population of people of color have been rising.  As one saw the faces of the March for Our Lives rally, one saw the diversity of color that will shape politics in the near future.

    These individuals and the NRA are bullies and since they see that the times are moving against them and will slowly overwhelm them, it is obvious that their politics are driven by a genuine fear that “their way of life” is slipping away.  Of course, like most people motivated by fear, the dangers they see surrounding them are more fantasy than reality. By the time this country enacts intelligent laws, Wayne Lapierre and many of the men who fetishistically cling to their guns will be dead and buried.  Some of course will be with us longer and will continue to argue that guns aren’t the problem. One of the weirdest commentaries on the Parkland shooting from one such person came from former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum on CNN:
SANTORUM: “Yes. I mean, this is the bottom line.

Is this a political effort? Is this a political movement? It very well may be, and that's fine.

I mean, if the organizers, people certainly supported it, the Hollywood elites and the liberal billionaires who funded this, is all about politics.

Is this really all about politics or is it all about keeping our schools safe? Because it is about keeping our schools safe then we have to have much broader discussion than the discussion that's going on right now. How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that if there is violence.”   

    The sheer magnitude of Santorum’s stupidity here is outdone by his response to another commentator who reminded him that these kids are taking action by protesting:

SANTORUM: Yes, they took action to ask someone to pass a law.

They didn't take action say, how do I as an individual deal with this problem? How am I going to do something about stopping bullying within my own community? What am I going to do to actually help respond to an issue? What am I going to do?

Those are the kinds of things where you can take it in internally and say, here's how I'm going to deal with this, here's how I'm going to help the situation instead of going and protesting and saying, oh, someone else needs to pass a law to protect me.”
His smug platitudes don’t disguise what he really wants.  He wants the students to be silent. He wants the students to leave the matter of politics and policy about guns in the smooth, soft hands of the politicians who sputtered inanities about “thoughts and prayers” every time these mass shooting happen, then return to their offices to open the envelopes out of which flutter the checks  the NRA has generously sent them. But as Delaney Tarr said, their “voices” won’t “be silenced.” Let’s hope she’s right and let’s keep fighting with her and the rest of those kids who are young enough to be far wiser than their elders and who very soon will transform their words into ballots more persuasive than all those NRA payoffs to members of congress.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Against Trump IV

    Disturbed as I have been by Trump’s lechery and lies, yesterday’s news of his firing of General H. R. McMaster and replacing him with John Bolton has added a new sinister potential to his presidency.  With the appointment of Bolton, Trump now has another aggressive hardliner whose positions on Iran and North Korea match the virulent rhetoric of his speeches and tweets.

    Of course, Bolton has his supporters who believe that he has the force to stabilize Trump and establish consistency leading the country toward the foreign policy they dream of.  They applaud the unapologetic rhetoric of his “America First” worldview. They love that he has always advocated that the United States should take a hard nationalistic approach to China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.  And they get all tingly when he espouses unilateralism over the multilateralism, even when our allies are involved.

    Bolton, no doubt, is intellectually qualified for any top position in the administration.  And his conservative objections to the Iran deal and North Korea’s behavior have some merit.  What corrodes his policy formations, though, is his “everlasting itch” to launch preemptive strikes.  Bolton has argued that the United States should drop any diplomatic means to arrest North Korea’s nuclear program and simply bomb them; he urges policy makers to tear up the Iran deal, and then bomb that country too.  His bellicose language isn’t just rhetoric. In the lead up to the 2003 war in Iraq, Bolton vehemently pushed for the invasion, claimed the conflict would end swiftly and has continued to indefatigably defend the greatest strategic blunder of the twenty-first century, (thus far).  Like Rumsfeld, Bolton fantasized about Iraqi welcoming American troops and insisted that Saddam’s tyranny would miracuously be transmuted into glittering democracy.  Like Rumsfeld, Bolton still maintains that the invasion was the right call even though everyone knows that the administration lied about Iraq’s build up of weapons of mass destruction.  

    With Bolton as national security advisor and Pompeo shortly to become secretary of state, one sees a trio of characters more unsettling than the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld triumvirate whose disastrous policy needlessly sacrificed over four thousand American troops and a half million innocent Iraqis.  And just as in that war, neither Bolton nor Trump can be trusted to evaluate intelligent reports honestly about Iran’s compliance with the six-party deal or tell the truth regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

    Bolton graduated from Yale Law school.  Yet some of his comments resemble the bluster of a barroom bully.  At least when he speaks about legal matters he observes a more decorous style:  “It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law, even when it seems in our national interest to do so-because over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrain the United States.”  Though the style here is less blunt than his usual dogmatic pronouncements, the content thumps the reader with Bolton’s sledge-hammer philosophy. What exactly does Bolton mean by any international law that would constrain the United States or its policies? Does Bolton mean policies such as propping up dictators in south east Asia or Latin America?  Policies conspiring with military juantas to assassinate democratically elected leaders? Policies spraying Agent Orange across large swaths of Vietnam?

   Over the coming months or weeks we will all have to watch the administration closely and be ready to pressure congress and protest in the streets if Trump or Bolton or Pompeo begin browbeating the legislative branch “for open war.”  Like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, neither Trump nor Bolton have ever experienced the horrors of combat. Trump dodged the draft through the phony flat-foot ruse. Bolton joined the Maryland National Guard to avoid the possibility of going to Vietnam.  Men who falsely or assiduously evade the grotesque horror of war are sometimes those most ravenous for unspeakable violence, mayhem, death and dismemberment which their policies perpetrate.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Against Trump III

    Donald Trump’s attempts to cover up his vulgar and sexist womanizing and his ongoing efforts to undermine the credibility of media have revealed his most practiced modus operandi:  his determination to suppress the truth about himself and his activities. When children do something wrong and are discovered, their impulse is to lie: “No Mommy, I didn’t pour juice on Billy’s head; he did it himself.”  Usually, they eventually own up and confess their guilt. Over time, the impulse to lie, to hide the truth, is often (though sometimes very slowly) muscled out by the growing sinews of moral character. As we see in Trump’s case, that process of developing moral character never took place.  

    Trying to suppress any fact or truth that might jeopardize his interests are the steps that has choreographed Trump’s life.  Consequently, it has come as no surprise that hardly a day passes when he does not assail the probe into Russia’s subverting of the 2016 election.  For the first time, Trump even began naming Mueller in his attacks. This morning (Wednesday, March 21, 2018), Trump, referring to a comment made by Alan Dershowitz, tweeted:

“‘Special Council (sic) is told to find crimes, whether a crime exists of not.  I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be special Council. I am still opposed to it. I think President Trump was when he said there never should have been a Special Council appointed because…

“‘there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime, collusion or otherwise, or obstruction of justice!’  So stated by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.”

    Over the weekend, Trump raged on twitter against Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired Friday, March 17 and Robert Mueller.  In a barrage of tweets, he poured out his ire:

“The Fake news is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired.  How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation?  How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!”

“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.  It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign.  WITCH HUNT!”

    If his campaign in no way colluded with the Russians, then why is Trump twittering like Blake’s
                               “A Robin Red breast in a Cage
                               Puts all Heaven in a Rage”?

It seems clear, that Trump feels certain walls closing in on him.  What dealings with the Russians is he so anxious to hide? Is it that the tales of micturating females are true?  John Brennan, former C.I.A. director, wondered on MSNBC “Morning Joe (3/21/18) ” that the Russians “may have something on him personally.”   
    The aim of Trump’s twitter, and from what we can gather, the meetings with his lawyers, is quite obvious.  Trump wants Mueller gone; he wants any investigations into Russia scuttled. Whatever connections he has forged with the Russians in business or whatever knowledge of his unseemly conduct they possess exercise a powerful sway over him.  That’s why he asked James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn. That’s why he had Comey fired. That’s why he had McCabe fired. That’s why he keeps screaming that there is no collusion. Russia holds the secret, and given his sterling reputation, Mueller will keep digging till he unearths the truth.  Ironically, Trump too is digging a hole. As he tries to “dish dirt” on the intelligence agencies, on McCabe, on Comey and now on Mueller, he can’t see that the hole he’s digging will end up entombing him. For any intelligent survey of Trump’s words and actions could be viewed as obstruction of justice, and if his dealings with the Russians haven’t broken any laws his efforts to conceal them certainly suggest conspiracy to obstruct justice.  To get a clear picture of what might constitute obstruction of justice, one need only remember two recent Presidents, one who fell and one who nearly fell:

One of the charges from Impeachment of Nixon
“Interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees.”

One of the charges from Impeachment of Clinton
…”has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, and has to that end engaged personally and through his subordinates and agents, in course for conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up, and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony related to Federal Civil Rights Action brought against him.”

    Over his lifetime, Trump has bamboozled many credulous people.  And, as difficult as it might be to imagine the bloated and bombastic Trump as a child, I suppose his dealings in business reflect what he learned from that childhood. It is as if no one ever bothered to plant and nurture in him the roots of honesty and integrity when he was a young boy.  Instead, we see a man in whom the gnarled and coarse sinews of selfishness and avarice have grown rather than moral character. Obstruction of justice to him, therefore, isn’t wrong; it’s simply him asserting his character.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Against Trump II

                                               Against Trump II

“Only a free and unrestricted press can effectively expose deception in government”
                                                                                            Hugo Black

    In my last blog I attempted to persuade anyone (especially friends)  who voted for Trump to recognize the base personality that inhabits the man and informs his words and actions towards women.  I realize that some of his supporters see his licentious language and behavior as irrelevant to national politics and therefore are unmoved by an appeal to decency.  Others feel that Trump’s affairs are a private matter between him and his wife. “I am not going to judge Trump’s or anyone else’s sexual conduct,” they say. Of course, that is the approach Bill Clinton’s supporters used to excuse his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, which conservatives roundly and rightly still reject.  A third, and perhaps the largest, group of voters simply don’t believe the news accounts describing Trump’s “amorous” assignations. In fact, this group considers reports criticizing the president as “fake news” manufactured by a biased and hostile media. And although vilification of the media has been a continual exercise by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and a host of radio dogmatists, what has added a dangerous impetus to the anti-media rantings is Trump’s own relentless crusade to destroy the media’s credibility.   

    Previous presidents have blamed the media for mistreating and misrepresenting them.  Nixon’s antagonism with the media grew out of his paranoia that reporters would never give him an honest break.  For all his complaining, Nixon never demonized publically news outlets or attempted to define all of them as dishonest purveyors of propaganda.  On the other hand, Trumps have made it an almost daily ritual to malign the media (except Fox News). Here is a brief sample of his anti-media statements:

Rally in Phoenix, Arizona, August 22,2017.
Journalist are “sick people”; they are “trying to take away our history and heritage”; “I really think they don’t like our country.”
“If you want to discover the source of the division in our country, look no further than the fake news and the crooked media.”
"You're taxpaying Americans who love our nation, obey our laws, and care for our people. It's time to expose the crooked media deceptions, and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions,"

Speech at CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, January 21, 2017.
“As you know, I have a running  war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

Tweet, November, 27,2017.
“We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and  not including FOX, is the most dishonest corrupt and /or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me).  They are all bad. Winner to receive FAKE NEWS TROPHY!”

Tweet, February 17, 2017.
“The FAKE NEWS MEDIA (failing @nytimes, @NBC, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

    These statements come from a man who also said, “I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all that.”  Really? Does Trump think that anyone would be fooled by his inept dissimulation? Or that anyone forgets him calling the news media “scum,” “slime,” or “disgusting,”?  The MIT professor, Noam Chomsky has remarked that “If we don’t believe in freedom of the expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Clearly Trump believes in freedom of expression, but only for those who grovel before him, fawn over him or pander to his ego.  The way Trump feels about the media was eloquently summed up by Mitt Romney: Donald Trump “applauds the prospect of twisting the constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press.”

    Now, what I wish to call to the attention of Trump’s supporters is the real danger lurking in this presidency.  Trump has espoused an affinity for dictators-Putin, Duterte, Xi. He admires their iron fisted control and, no doubt, would enjoy the power to rule as they do.  He would like nothing more than to possess their power and use it to control and punish news media outlets that criticized him. But since that’s impossible, he incessantly strives to sully the reputations of every news organization that does not flatter him.  And his followers regularly repeat his mantra that any media that criticises him is nothing more than “fake news.” What his followers fail to understand is the basic function of a free press. A free press has the responsibility to speak truth to power. That necessarily entails taking positions on issues.  Therefore, whether a news outlet takes a position on the left or the right matters little. What matters most is that they report honestly the facts of the stories they cover. The New York Times leans to the left; The Wall Street Journal, to the right.  Both paper have earned high and just praise for their journalism.  Why? Because they each report accurately the stories they tell. Of course, the Times prefers to tends to be more critical of Republican presidents; the Journal, of Democratic ones.  But each is fair, accurate and honest regarding the facts and, more importantly, the truth.  Both papers and most of the television news, adhere to a credo set forth by George Orwell in The Prevention of Literature: “freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means freedom to criticize and oppose.”  Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal do both admirably.  
    If Trump supporters would finally accept the fact the media is doing a job essential to preserving democracy, and telling truths about Trump, then many of them would have the scales fall from their eyes and feel the sting of the light of reason.  Shortly thereafter, they might suffer a spell of nausea as they recognized the infinite repugnance of Trump and, like Jeff Flake and a few others, see the patriotic duty defending the media against what John Brennan has rightly described as a “disgrace demagogue.”