Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

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Three into Two Won’t Go

The administration of future ex-President Donald Trump appeared to be in a graveyard spiral.  The House’s impeachment inquiry was going well; the G7 Summit at Trump’s beleaguered, bedbug-ridden Doral Resort was universally condemned; Mick Mulvaney spit the bit on the quid pro quo deal with Ukraine; Joe Biden didn’t shoot himself in either foot during this week’s debate.

Nature abhorring a vacuity, into the breach rushed Tulsi Gabbard and Hillary Clinton.  During a midweek podcast interview with David Plouffe, Obama’s twice-successful campaign manager, former/former/former Clinton said that one of the current, female Democratic candidates was being “groomed” as a third-party candidate by the Russians.  Counting out Harris, Klobuchar, Warren, and Marianne Wilson, the index finger pointed at Tulsi Gabbard, who had done the same math.

Gabbard fired back at Clinton. “Let’s be clear what this is about. Really, that if anyone stands up and speaks out to end the regime-change war policies that this country has had for so long, the likes of which we’ve seen waged in Iraq, Libya and Syria, we will be labeled as foreign agents, as traitors to our country…that we are traitors to the nation that we love. This is despicable on so many levels.”

Gabbard described Clinton as a champion of the regime change policies. She didn’t stop there, describing the 2016 nominee as the “embodiment of corruption.”  These are sobriquets one might pick out of Trump’s Compendium of Campaign Taunts and Disparagement. That would be strange in isolation.   Not for nothing, though, Gabbard has received praise from a surprising cohort of Trump supporters. Lisa Lerer wrote in the New York Times several days before the Clinton statement, in a piece called, “What is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?”

 Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, is impressed with her political talent. Richard B. Spencer, the white nationalist leader, says he could vote for her. Former Representative Ron Paul praises her “libertarian instincts,” while Franklin Graham, the influential evangelist, finds her “refreshing.”

 And far-right conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich see a certain MAGA sais quoi.

  “She’s got a good energy, a good vibe. You feel like this is just a serious person,” Mr. Cernovich said. “She seems very Trumpian.”

Plus, the support of former KKK Grand Dragon David Duke.  The Times story mentioned other alt-right constituencies offering praise for Gabbard’s isolationism and her willingness to criticize Israel.  Yet, her isolationist rhetoric reads as an anti-imperialist message, at home in Democratic circles of the sixties and seventies, ignored by Gabbard herself.

The Times article also cited Gabbard’s favorable treatment by the Russian Times and supportive attention from suspected Russian bots.  There is reason for concern that she might be a witting Russian asset, like Donald Trump, or an unwitting one, like Donald Trump.

Gabbard threatened to boycott last week’s debate, contending that the 2020 election was being rigged. This has a Trump resonance But Gabbard worked for Sanders in 2016. She comes by her distrust honestly.

At the same time, Clinton’s statement — provocative, tone-deaf and impolitic — hearkens back to 2016 and Deplorables 2.0.   She threw a Molotov cocktail when all that was needed was a Roman candle.  The only important point is that the Russians need Trump to win to continue to influence U.S. foreign policy. Fearing that the structural limit of Trump’s support and his self-inflicted wounds will render him unelectable, Russia’s interjection of a third-party candidate to Trump’s left would split the Democratic vote, potentially tossing the election to the incumbent.

Russia’s attempt to divide the vote and the Democrats’ internecine struggle over the role of the DNC are the “vectors” which line up Russia’s potential backing of a Democrat to run as a third party.  The Democrats have not put out the fire. In fact, in Democratic circles, the war of 2016 continues to rage with complaints over super-delegates and partisan treatment. Hence, claims of corruption.

I drew flack yesterday with the statement, “As Trump falters, the Democrats’ circular firing squad moves into position.”

https://www.facebook.com/678453688/posts/10158060790548689/   Nevertheless, that assessment stands.  It remains a long, difficult lesson for Democrats to learn how Republicans, essentially a minority, outperform them through superior party discipline:  Merrick Garland. Brett Kavanaugh.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have gone so wrong as to put party over country. Maybe that’s inevitable when power is concerned. The Democrats have won far less than they should have, largely because of a failure in marshaling resources. Obama is a notable exception. So much about being a Democrat these days is aspirational. Still, there has to be a pragmatic side to it, and that pragmatic side must be upgraded to compete with the substantial political and financial forces arrayed against it.

 

Père Donald? Merdre!

One way to look at Future Ex-President Trump’s removal of troops from Syria is that the cabal involving Russia, Syria and Iran convinced him that it was “time” to get out.  This point of view treats him merely like a fool, and it is by all accounts the most charitable view.

The Kurds were stifling ISIS.  Within a day, the Turks moved on the Kurd territory, driving them out and opening a lane for ISIS to move.  His response was that ISIS won’t bother us – they’ll go to Europe.  Evidently, when Al Qaeda knocked down the Twin Towers, it inadvertently forgot to retake the Alhambra.  Not going to make that mistake again!

There are other, more sinister ways of looking at Trump’s decision to set free the turkeys but that would be the stuff of conspiracy and who needs a stuffed Turkey in October?  Let’s give Trump the benefit of the doubt for the moment- that he is merely a fool.

Then this is the moment we’ve been waiting for!   The moment when the consequences of Trump’s impulsive ignorance are recognizable immediately.    The signal that US troops were going home triggered an instant shift in the Middle East, with Iran, his bete-noir, the most likely beneficiary of the move.  More than ever, the appropriate question is: what was he thinking?  We don’t know, possibly will not know for many years, with his thoughts squirreled away in that private server we think of as the Stable Genius Stable.

I wonder if there was input from the CIA – if it was involved in the decision. Or the Defense Department; if we still have a Defense Department. Or Mike Pompeo, that one-man band at State.  The question for Pompeo is whether he can walk, chew gum, eaves-drop on a call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and analyze the complexities of Asia Minor and the Middle East at the same time. The presumptive answer is, “Are you kidding?”

Everybody else has left the building. Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, Bolton.  I’ve never had high praise for John Bolton – Dr. Strangelove without the disabilities – but within the Trump bunch, he may have been principled – a radical hawk, but a principled one – if there is such a thing.

When Trump cleared out the State Department, then the National Security Council, and let all the advisers go, that leaves no watchdogs, nobody to tell the president that all the screws are now loose, and the engine is starting to vibrate off  its mounts.

When that engine, the American nation,  drops from the chassis and screeches hot metal against asphalt until the entire vehicle stops dead,  that’s the time when we will miss our national apparatus; our redundancies – at State and Defense, NSA, ambassadors and spies, domestic investigators.  And for good measure, WHISTLEBLOWERS. Trump calls it the Deep State and deplores it, but the federal government, massive by necessity and preferably rich in information and experience, prevents the kind of disasters that an ignorant despot can cause at will. And he will.

Russia, If You’re Listening

Donald Trump has given Congress the road to his own perdition, not that he believes in it. He last year regarding the notes kept by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that good lawyers don’t keep notes. In essence, if you don’t write it down, there’s no evidence.

So, Trump, sly devil, doesn’t take notes; doesn’t put anything in writing; and prefers to conduct “personal diplomacy,” one to one calls or conferences in which no notes are taken or records kept. We recall he directed the translators at his meeting with Putin in Helsinki to destroy his notes.

There’s one thing he had to work around: when the president has a conversation with another head of state, many people are listening, in the Oval Office and in the Situation Room. Some of those people are charged with taking notes, transcribing the conversation. The notes taken are official records and cannot be destroyed. They are kept with similar records in an electronic filing system. They are discoverable to Congressional and FBI investigators. The Intelligence Committee has clearance over all classified materials, the kind of materials for which the lockdown was intended.

Records of his one-to-one conversations, such as the call with the Ukraine President in July, and most probably of the Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats immediately following the Comey firing in 2018, were placed in a special electronic lockdown and removed from the standard database. The records thus disappeared. The whistleblower states in his complaint that White House officials were directed by White House lawyers to “remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to cabinet-level officials.”

One of Trump’s Tells is that he accuses his enemies of doing what he himself has done or would do. Thus, Trump accused Hillary Clinton of maintaining a private email server to keep her nefarious dealings out of official State Department communications. It doesn’t matter if he believed that she did that. By accusing her, he signaled it as something he would do – and actually has.

Trump’s use of the lockdown in essence created for himself a private server into which his most scandalous communications were placed – away from prying government eyes. He might have gotten away with it, were it not for the whistleblower, one person – maybe the only person standing watch over the administration, perhaps a solitary figure acting at maximum personal risk.

 

Intermission

Revolted Colonies is going on hiatus.  Like many other people attempting to write about the political rift in our country, I am at a loss for words and voice to comment on the state of this Union. It seems that no matter how far from the White House a story starts, it eventually finds its way back – or to Mar-a-Lago or Bedminister. It’s tiresome, in addition to being unbecoming most of the time, veering occasionally into horrifying.

So I will sum up for now.  The country is in open warfare over who will control America.   America in the 21st Century began with existential terror and has never recovered.  America also is not reconciled to its demographic composition. The election of Barack Obama blew the lid off the White Nationalist movements boiling just beneath it. The backlash election of Donald Trump and his presidency have re-ignited white supremacists.

At the same time, we are ignoring our burning planet.  Eventually, there won’t be much left to fight over.

 

Blood in the Water

Joe Biden’s backers are fleeing.  When he started his 2020 campaign he was one gaff  away from a wipe out. He did better; he lasted two gaffs.  Biden failed to handle the anticipated attack  on his dealings with Dixiecrats in the 1970s.

He could have handled it many ways other than the way he chose, which was to attack Kamala Harris.  She offered a heart-felt explanation why his insensitivity was a problem. And he responded with — insensitivity. This is the party of kumbaya, after all. What was he thinking? Was he thinking?

It was stunning to see his campaign go down that fast but it’s for the best. Now resources won’t be wasted watching him crash in slo-mo.

The Democrats  can get on to the main event, which is to pass the torch to the new generation,  Elizabeth Warren notwithstanding.

Warren was one of the winners this week, along with Harris and Mayor Pete. Booker was good, Beto was disappointing and Bernie was Bernie.  Nobody has dropped out so far, and some of the other candidates were impressive.

Whoever wins will be left of Clinton and Obama. They stand a chance as long as Pennsylvanians don’t think that the Democrats will turn the Lehigh Vslley into an agricultural collective.

Haiku for Virginia Beach

Twelve dead, four wounded

Another day of mayhem

Something must be done

Playing the 2020 Field

Maybe the Democrats think that having 24 declared candidates is seven better than the GOP’s 17  in 2016. Or perhaps the lunatics are running the asylum. Nancy Pelosi can’t do everything, you know.

Either way, the party of Andrew Johnson has a problem  There are so many aspirants, it’s as if there were none.  Perhaps it’s better to think of the double dozen, not as viable contestants, but rather as a think tank, and the primary contests an extended brainstorming session.

The most prominent candidates, professional pols like current frontrunner Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders, do not have a single, signature issue. However, there are talented prospects on the taxi squad; people who possess experience in particular disciplines. For example:

  • Jay Inslee on climate issues
  • Elizabeth Warren on public education and family economics
  • Pete Buttigieg on homeland security and counterterrorism
  • Andrew Yang on automation and workforce
  • Tulsi Gabbard on armed services
  • Michael Bennett and Julian Castro on immigration
  • John Hickenlooper on gun control
  • Seth Moulton on national security
  • Tim Ryan on the economy and international trade    

How about locking them into a free-wheeling Internet-aired discussion, two or three at a time; forcing them to grapple with a single issue; challenging one another to propose a plan and then defend it. Require a proponent to explain how a program would be funded. Americans love new ideas, but we hate paying for them.

 These forums would provide the second-tier candidates with a way of distinguishing themselves, and at the same time giving the issues some Oxygen. The discussions could be posted on Youtube. They would be a stimulating sideshow to the Debates, an insufferable circus. 

Bless America

Family and friends aside, America is the best thing ever to happen to many of us. This is why I get emotional over the travesty of Trump’s government. He gets wrong so many things that I love about this country.

Foremost, the Constitution has been an incredibly ingenious document. Not perfect for sure, but resilient;  so far unbreakable.  Through the Constitution, the people of America have steered the nation through crises which threatened the continued existence of the republic.  Fundamentally, the Constitution is nothing without the people who interpret, study and honor it. It will never replace the King James version for some or the Torah and the Qaran for others. For me, the Constitution shares top billing with all of them.

The Constitution was conceived as a compact between and among states.  Alabama reminded us just last week that states are sovereign, making their own laws, even if they are out of sync with the Constitution.  The three branches each have an establishing article: Congress is set forth in the first part; the executive the second;  and judiciary the third. Congress makes laws, the Executive carries them out and Judiciary rules on conflicts between the two branches.

The judiciary has a busy season ahead of it, if the White House continues its siege against the Congressional hordes. Yesterday, Rep. Elijah Cummings’ House Oversight Committee prevailed in its onslaught against the obstructive administration. See The Sun Poked Through, 9/20/2019. Aaron Schiff and Jerry Nadler are teeing a few up as we speak.

This case and some others likely will reach the Supreme Court; a few no doubt will be consolidated for a decision. Trump calls it “his Court.”  He may be in for a surprise.  The judges don’t even think it is their Court. They are its caretakers only.

Even the most extreme members of the bench have lived in the law for decades. Its precept of stare decisis (let the decision stand) is the cornerstone of our laws.  Judges tend to follow precedent.  A court would rather create an exception to a strongly-held law, such as Roe v. Wadethe 1973 decision the right of a woman to decide whether or not to abort an unwanted pregnancy and in passing decriminalizing the performance of abortions by doctors, rather than overturn it.

When the new wave of anti-abortion laws reaches the high court, the media’s noise will be about overturning Roe v. Wade.  In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court had an opportunity to recall the Roe decision but refused to do it.  Some of the qualifiers and restrictions under the Pennsylvania law were adopted; others stricken. Thus began the death of Roe by a thousand cuts.  The pro-life movement has attacked abortion practice using Planned Parenthood‘s lower standards to show to justify a restriction.    Most likely, Roe will be so eviscerated as to remove any semblance of control from the woman undergoing the procedure, assuming she can find a doctor willing to give perform one.  Trump will say that Roe’s been overturned, and the pro-choice movement will deny it. It  will depend on the state, because ( improbably) it is a state by state decision.

The Court will hear many other cases, some likely to rest on the meaning of the Constitution. The prospect does not promise judicial consensus.  In some cases, though, the Judges should see the Constitutional situation for what it is.  Nixon’s tape case (1974)  was argued before the same court as Roe v. Wade.  The bench split 7-2 on Roe with a dissent and a number of concurring decisions.  Nixon was unanimous 8-0, Justice Rehnquist having recused himself.

Even when the Constitutional issue is difficult (Nixon’s was not, nor will Trump’s be) the Justices tend to put forth a united front.  The Court was the final backstop for the conflict between Nixon and Congress.

Trump has restocked the  current Court with right leaners. The Chief has flirted with the center to maintain the Court’s credibility.  At least five judges will condemn Trump’s efforts to stonewall Congress.  Even Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh may recognize that setting a good precedent is more important than the expedient alternative.  Even if the Court votes to quash Congress’s investigative authority, Congress may nevertheless claim victory as long as the case is honestly fought, and the arguments are sincere and well-considered.

 

The Sun Poked Through

US District Judge Amit Mehta knocked down Trump’s application to quash the subpoena of his accountants’ records. Judge Mehta wrote a 41-page opinion. The gist of it is this:

“It is simply not fathomable that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a sitting President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct—past or present—even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”

In a nutshell, the Judge ruled that if Congress expresses a legitimate purpose for its investigation, it is not for the court – or the President – to second-guess it.

The same reasoning applies to other subpoenas issued by the House and Senate committees.  It remains to be seen if Trump will continue to resist the House’s investigations. If Mehta’s ruling stands, and it probably will, Trump’s continued refusal itself is a reason for impeachment, which the House will be constrained to undertake.

Darkness at the Center of Town

Congress is bearing down on Donald Trump and his administration of looters, opportunists and enablers.

The House Judiciary Committee has voted to cite Attorney General William Barr for contempt, for his refusal to share the Mueller Report in its complete and non-redacted form.  For Congress, this is the first step in a journey of thousands up to the November 2020 election, unless something occurs or is uncovered that will short-circuit the secrecies of the Trump administration.

I agree with most people who believe that impeachment is the correct action to go against a renegade executive, whether or not acquittal in the Senate is guaranteed.  Congress cannot allow unprincipled refusal to cooperate to be the norm.  Secrecy enables self-dealing and other corrupt practices.

Journalists, purveyors of the alleged fake news, are enjoying a golden age of investigative reporting.  Dogged persistence, in the face of White House recrimination and intimidation, has produced material revelations almost daily. The leaking of information, even if done for the wrong reason, casts light on the clandestine operation of Trump’s Washington. Without journalists, the government would be as dark as Dante’s Inferno.

Entire departments of the government are understaffed and opaque. Voters need to know about the government’s policies when they are affected by them. Voters need to know if elected officials are carrying out the laws in the direction promised.  They need to know if the officials themselves are complying with law.

Whether or not Trump’s obstructions were criminal, surely they were acts of misconduct. The Mueller Report at its root is a compendium of the administration’s  bad conduct, a subject with which our Congress in the first instance must be concerned. The Judiciary and Intelligence committees are charged with that duty. They should be allowed to know all of the facts and sources in order to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of government.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office was concerned with criminality. Congress must address the non-criminal aspects of the administration.  CASE CLOSED, Senator Mitch McConnell’s latest declaration, is intended to shut down Congress in its work. The Majority Leader is so wrong-headed as to warrant censure himself. Those of us who survived the Nixon presidency and the Watergate investigation know how close Nixon actually came to getting away with it.  A bipartisan Congress and an incorruptible independent counsel forced his hand.

The founders understood the principles of divided government, but they did not envision or provide for a government so split that it is polarized on the necessity of government.  The reason for the administration’s failure to fill posts and to keep policy under wraps is a distaste for governmental initiative. The administration governs by the law of the jungle.   Anti-democratic principles, such as Cheney and Barr’s unitary executive theory , fulfill a reactionary vision of American life, in which wealth rules with impunity, and those without it are subjects, not citizens.

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