Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

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Mildly Nauseous, Comey Dies of Complications

President Trump summarily dumped James Comey, the FBI director whose  July admonishment of Hillary Clinton and October surprise may have affected the outcome of the 2016 election in  Trump’s favor.  These were the reasons Trump gave yesterday when he dispatched Comey by public letter, shocking and humiliating Comey while he  spoke with a group of Los Angeles agents. That’s no way to treat the guy who helped him get the job. 

Trump fired Comey the week following his testimony before a Senate committee  investigating Russia’s hack of the 2016 election. Comey said that the investigation was ongoing, which pretty much rang the President’s bell.  Comey was on death watch since last July.  The timing of his professional demise nevertheless is suspicious. After all, based on the particulars given,Trump could have dumped him months ago, along with Preet Bharara and Sally Yates, two other Obama appointees held over temporarily and then booted for political reasons. Comey’s takedown of Clinton earned him a couple of extra months on the chopping block. Think of it as severance. 

In a rare showing of bipartisanship, calls for a special investigation are coming from both sides of the aisle. Trump’s standing with Congressional Republicans is shakier than his relationship to the truth. The 2018 midterm elections are not far away.  The incumbent’s party usually takes a licking in the midterms. Because of the Trumpcare fiasco, they’re shaping up as a debacle already. Add the Russia investigation to the mix and you’ve got the makings of epic disaster.

Forcing Trump from office in favor of Mike Pence would be a balm for the GOP but it can’t happen quickly enough to salvage the party’s hopes. In fact, Trump was elected because of the decomposition of the Republican Party. These “halcyon” days of the new administration have proven that Trump is not one to unite the party, any more than he is fit to govern. 

The daily jolts landed to the body politic bear frightful reminders of Watergate. When Nixon’s ordeal finally was over, relieved citizens proclaimed that the Constitution worked. Paraphrasing an AA program slogan, the Constitution works if you work the Constitution. 

It falls to the Republicans in control of Congress to speed the end of America’s electoral disgrace, even if it means Mike Pence in the Oval Office. We would all be better off with a more conventional lunatic running the asylum. 

“You Fucked Up. You Trusted Us.”

Trusted

In a country which calls the championship of its national pastime the World Series, what did you really expect about Universal Healthcare?

What a Difference a Day Makes?

Hillary Clinton sat with Christine Amanpour of CNN recently for a lengthy interview about the campaign. In advance of her book about the 2016 election due out this fall, Clinton took responsibility for a flawed campaign. However, she insisted  that the statement made by James Comey, FBI director, on October 28, 2016, effectively turned the election against her.  Comey announced that the FBI capture of a trove of Clinton email from her aide’s laptop  would cause an extension of the investigation. 

The year 2016 may be mentioned along with  years  when the political culture of the world shifted almost in a chain reaction. It may be a year that symbolizes an epoch. Brexit, the ascendancy of Trump, and the as yet unknown fate of the French presidency are keynotes in what shapes up as a turn toward authoritarianism. With that overview, it is awfully hard to say that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign foundered on a single day, even one so freighted with significance.

According to most reliable  polling experts she was ahead in the two weeks before the election. James Comey’s announcement of an ongoing investigation of her email disrupted the beltway and made headlines running straight up to Election Day. Clinton has good reason to think that the announcement changed minds, but whose and how many? 

It’s not clear though that Comey’s announcement changed enough minds to alter the election result. She also blames Russian intrigue but its reach and effect are still being measured. In any case, the race was close, too close to call decisively especially as voting began.  There were many other reasons why votes might have slipped away from the clearly more qualified candidate.

The authors of Shattered, a history of the 2016 Clinton campaign, argue that dysfunction in the campaign itself, caused in part by the candidate, doomed the enterprise. They nevertheless suggest many other reasons, beyond the campaign’s control, why Hillary Clinton’s fate was sealed. This election will employ historians for generations, assuming of course that History is not repealed by Executive Order.

Hide the Aircraft Carrier

That Prez! He’s practiced at the art of deception, alright.  This time he snagged a lot of ordinarily careful people. Like Rachel Maddow.  Last night, Rachel’s opening stemwinder was about making the Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson disappear.  It started last Saturday when Reuters published an item, leaked from the White House no doubt, that the Carrier group was steaming for the Sea of Japan, to be ready just in case. “Freedonia’s going to war,” is what most pundits concluded.

On Sunday the administration had placed its gray eminences on the Sunday talk shows, ready to be questioned on the bold stroke of pointing this flotilla at North Korea.  McMaster, Mattis, and Spicer the following day said that it would be a prudent thing to do. The Prez himself went a little further (doesn’t he always?), saying that we were sending an Armada.  He didn’t say where.  In fact, the Carrier group was never ordered to the Sea of Japan. It was conducting exercises in the Southern Hemisphere with our buddies from Australia.

But wait! They all said – !

Said what?  “It would be prudent?”   Didn’t think these guys were subtle enough for the conditional?  You think that only OJ “If I Killed Her” Simpson has that kind of pizzazz.  A lot of the press was careless, failing to follow up vague answers with specific questions.  They were made to look foolish.  

For the often brilliant Maddow, it’s becoming a habit. She gushed over a 20-year-old Trump tax return that said nothing.  Last night, she joined the many who didn’t pay close enough attention to get the story right because they were rushing to get out a sensational news item.  Only it was bunk.  Fool me once…I guess Dubya was wrong – they got fooled again.  Rachel has not been on top of her game lately.

Aside from fooling the press, who did the Administration think was getting conned? Surely, anyone with a satellite can track the movement of a carrier group.  China must have known there was no forward fleet.  North Korea must have known too. Even if the Beloved Leader’s satellites dropped out of the sky, China would have passed along the message. Unless of course, North Korea hadn’t gotten the fake news in the first place. 

 The Prez is known to be a fan of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. He thinks Sun is terrific. He hoped to get him a seat in the cabinet or at least pitch him to do a speaking tour with Frederick Douglas, another rising star.  The Art of War teaches:

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

That might have worked in 500 B.C., but surveillance has improved since them. Trump may well hide his true intentions but he made fools of the press first and his administration second.  Won’t get fooled again?  Right.

Nuclear Options

How strange but fitting that the U.S. Senate uses the nuclear option of ultimate annhiliation as metaphor for repealing the filibuster on Supeme Court nominations. After all, the appointment of a judge to the nation’s highest court for a lifetime is the most consequential selection entrusted to the Senate.  Because 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster, in effect the same number was needed for the Senate to approve a nominee. In theory at least.  But when Neil Gorsuch’s nomination is approved by a simple majority of senators today, it will be the result of yesterday’s repeal of the filibuster rule on Supeme Court appointments.  Ka-boom.

McConnell and Schumer, Majority and Minority leaders, both say that the filibuster will not be repealed on legislative matters, but why not? If they’ve adopted a take-no-prisoners approach to their most solemn executive appointment, why not lower the bar for more mundane matters, such as health care? I would add the power to declare war but Congress surrendered that one years ago.   They just pay the bills and let the President declare and conduct wars on his own.

Now,  the U.S. Secretary of State has said, in reference to North Korea, that all options are on the table— which would include an option to drop a nuclear bomb on the Hermit Kingdom.  The nuclear option as non-metaphor. That table he’s talking about might be a gold-encrusted banquet at which Trump and Xi dine at Mar-a-Lago this weekend, in the secure cocoon of the Secret Service and a few hundred of the Palm Beach nobility out for a big night.  Out of stone crabs, are we? I’d dreaded the day that generals ran the country’s foreign policy, but under current circumstances, it’s reassuring. At least, they know what real nuclear options are.

So, our beloved Senate, a bastion of restraint and experience, is as divided as Korea. The parties are so polarized that the two caucuses have lost the ability to compromise. They cannot talk across party aisles, even when the unity of Americans as one people is at stake.  Nuclear option is an apt description after all for a policy that can alter forever the politics of the republic.

Despite the extremes of public opinion, a relatively restrained, conservative and collegial Senate once horse-traded its way to centrist politics.  In a good settlement, everybody walks away slightly unhappy. But there will be few settlements if a minority has no leverage against strict party-line majority voting. There will be no balance in government, only a pendulum swinging in a wider, scarier arc.

 

 

 

Rex Points His Roscoe at the Hermit Kingdom

North Korea Problem

A Brain Teaser

It feels almost normal around here. The sun is shining, spring is near, and the top story today was not about Russia.  Today’s big news is that Rex Tillerson, our strong but silent Secretary of State, made headlines during his East Asia trip. Passing from Tokyo, through Seoul, in route to Beijing, Tillerson took aim at the world’s blackest sheep – The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. So much for those Americans who complain we don’t have a democracy anymore. If the Hermit Kingdom has one, well then, so do we.

Now, Junior, Behave Yourself

North Korea is officially the world’s bad actor – even though it has not acted much.  It’s detonated nuclear bombs, and it’s built ballistic missiles.  The missiles, not so much, keep falling into the water, but one day they’ll get that figured out.  When they do, they plan on lobbing one of those babies across the Pacific right at us.  In the meantime, California, itself in breakaway mode, is ramping up its own anti-missile shield to redirect any incoming to the Mojave Desert – or Utah.

America’s top diplomat does not intend to wait for Kim-Jong to get his load on. Old Tex Tillerson is aiming his Peacemakers right there into the heart of downtown Pyongyang.  He announced at a joint press conference in Seoul with  South Korea’s Foreign Minister that the era of Strategic Patience is over.

Losing Strategic Patience

“If [the North Koreans] elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe that requires action, [the military] option is on the table.”  In the world of nuclear haves and have-nots, there are two strategies of dealing with atomic wanna-bes.  One is imminence – striking against a country when their nuclear program is about to reach operational level.  The other is preemption – taking action before operational level is reached.  Preemption is tricky, though.  Only Israel has played the preemption card in bombing Iranian nuclear facilities when the program was in its infancy. How soon is too soon; or soon enough?

Strategic Patience, the policy formed by the Obama administration, was an attempt to draw a third position between the two.  Obama began his Presidency looking for a diplomatic resolution with North Korea, who responded to his outstretched hand by setting off a nuclear test and a multi-stage rocket launch. Goodbye, Era of Good Feelings.  Obama countered with sanctions and censure by the United Nations.   It’s said that Dear Leader hung up the Censure Resolution in his workshop alongside his chemistry set.

Around the Water Cooler

According to the latest chatter, North Korea is preparing for another round of nuclear tests, which bring Tillerson to his first High Noon moment.  The problem of course is that this is no mano-a-mano contest.  The U.S. is defending South Korea, an economic giant. China, Tillerson’s next stop on the whistle tour, is North Korea’s only trading partner. Japan, which is in the line of fire, has issues with both North Korea and China, and it’s not looking for a fight.  Which explains why Tillerson held back his announcement until he left Tokyo and before traveling to Beijing.

Rex and Wang Play for High Stakes 

Beijing does not like the idea of the U.S. and South Korea carrying out exercises in East Asia, so it surely won’t like the idea of military action or involuntary dismantling of the North Koreans. The Chinese have warned the U.S. about the accelerating hostilities but has been unwilling to act. Officially, if favors talks (how Obama-like!) and will make concessions to keep its ally in line.  But as Tillerson has pointed out, strategic patience is like slow-boiling a frog. By the time you know you’re in the hot pot, it’s too late. Besides, China won’t benefit from opening North Korea It does fine having a captive client state on its doorstep.

North Korea is the kind of place that starts wars bigger than itself.  Think Serbia for rabid nationalism, a history of violence and a penchant for self-destructiveness.  The U.S. and China are smart enough to realize that North Korea could strike a match just as the Serbians started World War I by assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary.  The two superpowers must reach agreement on how to stop the Sun of Socialism from joining the nuclear fraternity without blowing everyone else up.

© 2017 The Revolted Colonies ™

Beltway Media, Are You Listening?

Despite all the self-flagellation over  missing the story of the 2016 Presidential election, the pundits of the Beltway still don’t seem to get it.  Last night, the President gave a speech to – or past – a joint session of Congress.  Past, because it was not really intended for the members.  He spoke of American greatness and American destiny, which have been forfeited by the Obama administration.  Trump, in effect, gave an update of his stump speech. Then, former Kentucky Governor, Steve Beshear, followed with the Democratic response, from a diner in Lexington, Ky. Surrounded by a few customers presumably or hostages, perhaps,   Beshear, elderly, dressed in a cardigan, a Mr. Rogers for the People, peered at the camera with his pale blue eyes and grandfatherly smile, telling the President and the audience that, in spite of the Presidential breast-beating, in the first month of the new administration, nothing has been done to help working families.  

The pundits pounded away on both Trump and Beshear. Trump brought nothing new, no detail.  Apart from a Justice Department task force on violence, which is not targeting hate crimes, he proposed no steps to curb the racial and anti-Semitic violence he finally condemned.   The rest of the speech was aspirational, laying out his agenda and asking for a bipartisan Congress to act on it.  “Act on what?” cried the pundits, who pointed out that Trump peppered his statement with 51 misstatements of fact during a 60-minute speech.  

Beshear, they complained, was a dumb choice; a Bobby Jindal moment for the Democrats, who should have pushed forward one of their young Turks: Christopher Murphy, one of the Castro brothers, even Chuck Schumer for crying out loud!  Beshear is a slow, old tub, when what they need is a turbo-charged speedboat.

As Archie Bunker would have said, “Wrong again, Maude!”  Beshear and Trump were both speaking over the heads of the pundits and politicians, going straight to the heart of mid-America.  Beshear won’t be running for President, but he was there to remind folks that Democrats also live in the heartland, and they are watching out for their neighbors and fellow worshippers.  Before rolling out Democrat 2018, they are trying to claw back some of what they lost in 2016.  Beshear was there to say that the Democrats care, just like a friendly Grampa, not like that Wall Street-loving plutocrat in the White House.

The Beltway media need to get out a little more and talk to somebody besides each other.  The two parties know where control of power lies, and they are reaching out to connect to Uncle Henry and Auntie Em.  The pundits are fact-checking when they should be minding the storm-cellar.

Give a Leak, Take a Leak: Welcome to Washington

Leaks

 

Leaks come from disgruntled career bureaucrats, or disgruntled  former security contractors and  internet provocateurs, or candidates floating trial balloons,  or political opponents with scores to settle. And now that war has gone digital, leaks can be a military offensive.

 Take a leak like the outing of bad boy Mike Flynn. His past successes  taught him to ignore the rules. For example, when he was in charge of routing ISIS, he decided to leak  US intelligence to Pakistan about Pakistan. Just to show those bastards we know where they live. Well of course we do; we have GPS. It was a blatant violation disclosing classified information. But he got away with it. 

Now the tables have been turned.   His back channel bromance with Russian ambassador Kislyak became front page news. So did his lying to Mike Pence about their sanctions pillow talk. Out came the secret, and down went Flynn.  The source of the leak is a mystery still. Like one of those English mystery stories where the stiff had so many enemies, lots of suspects had opportunity and motive.

 So who are the suspects in this one? The intelligence community for sure. Just yesterday, they said they’re going to withhold information from the President because they don’t trust him. Imagine that. They don’t trust Him with their information because they think he’ll give it to America’s enemies. You don’t need Julius Rosenberg if you’ve got Donald Trump.

A lot of media outlets are pissed off at this administration too. They’ve all been thrown out of the press conferences except for Breitbart and Golf Courses of the World. Not that it matters.  Nothing really is being said at press conference these days that isn’t contradicted  by somebody else in the administration five minutes before or after.  

 If I had to guess, though, I would say it’s some career government employee, stashed in one of the intelligence agencies,  who got so pissed off that he ended up blowing the whistle. Kind of like Milton in the movie, “Office Space.” You just don’t screw around with a guy’s stapler.

 Deep Throat, America’s most famous leaker, is gone, but his advice still rings true: follow the money. It’s a little more challenging though when we have to convert from dollars to rubles.

Leaks are political safety valves and have a purpose; a fact of nature, like gas escaping a Swamp.

© 2017 The Revolted Colonies ™

 

If the Office Doesn’t Fit…

“Not fit,” determined almost every established newspaper to weigh in on the candidate’s qualifications for office. This includes several papers that usually don’t give endorsements and others that have not endorsed a Democrat since the Year of the Flood.   These journalists, even Republican partisans, gave fair warning. The man with the orange visage does not know how to run a government and is not temperamentally disposed to the job.  Not just unqualified, but not fit to hold the office.

Former Presidents and other Republican officeholders also said that he was not fit. So did Barack Obama.  

Mental Health experts offered the same opinion. Lots of them.

He won anyway, and after the first three weeks of Trump administration, the White House is in turmoil. There is a communication breakdown among the senior staff.  Mike Flynn, the National Security Adviser resigned – or was asked to resign – you can read it either way.  He admits to lying to V.P. Pence, who seems to be kept at arms’ length on decisions, and may have lied to the F.B.I., in which case it’s a felony. The President knew for at least a few weeks that Flynn had lied and was under investigation for conferring with Russian diplomats before the inauguration.  Trump waited until the story leaked, then feigned ignorance before Flynn was forced to step down.

Kellyanne Conway took to the airwaves to say that Flynn had the President’s complete support. Within one hour, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that the President was re-evaluating. By the end of the day, Flynn was gone.

The White House is still reeling from its disastrous immigrant travel ban.  A federal appeals court put the kibosh on implementing the ban.  The White House threatened to take the case to the Supreme Court but decided against it.  It hasn’t taken any new action, and judges from other jurisdictions – Virginia, most recently – have continued to throw dirt on the Executive Order.  It wasn’t so much that the idea was bad – ok, there was no evidence offered to support the action – but it was so incompetently put together that a middle school civics student could have pointed out the unconstitutional flaws.

The President walked back from the following campaign pledges:  repeal Obamacare immediately.  Seems to be a little more complicated than he thought. He dropped his divide and conquer approach to China, after cozying up to Taiwan.  

He backed away from supporting new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, after  approving them, and stuck to a two-state solution.  Until today, that is. With the Israeli Prime Minister visiting, he announced that a one state solution could work, too. Either one is fine with him.  Not even the Israelis and Palestinians think so, but whatever.

His Labor nominee was forced to withdraw; another nanny-gate, as well as union-busting.

We’re not talking politics at all. We’re talking performance.  Every new president is bound to make mistakes.  This surpasses mistakes.  He doesn’t seem to get it, or he really believes what Richard Nixon learned the hard way.  Something is not legal just because the president says it or does it.  He’s not the Chairman of the Board or the CEO.  He doesn’t have unlimited, unchecked powers.

This past week, a new voice, Stephen Miller, entered the fray. Kellyanne on PEDs.  When he was an assistant to Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the Attorney General, he sent out so many emails that his own caucus marked them as spam.  Steve Miller says that the President has unquestioned power. He’s a joker.

And that’s just this week, and it’s only Wednesday.

© 2017 The Revolted Colonies ™

 

General Washington, Meet Mr. Trump

 

Let’s get legal for a minute. Last night, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate even temporarily the immigration travel ban, handing the Trump administration a defeat on one of its signature issues. For several reasons, it’s huge.

The Constitution creates three branches of government and gives certain powers to each branch. In this case, the Executive branch has the power to administer matters of immigration, as well as primacy in matters of national security. The Ninth Circuit decision in the case, improbably named Washington v. Trump, addressed whether this power has any limitation and, if so, whether the Judicial branch can restrain the Executive. The Court decided that it did indeed have the power to review and determine if the Executive Order is unconstitutional. Because if the courts can’t do it, who or what is there to stop an Executive from violating the Constitution?

This is not as obvious as it sounds. Lots of times, the Executive or Legislative branch cannot be checked by the courts. For example, the Executive has the exclusive power over foreign relations. Under the law, the courts have refused to get involved, calling it a political question. The government argued the same principle in this case.

Three Ninth Circuit judges speaking as one rejected the Government’s argument.

“Our court has likewise made clear that “[a]lthough alienage classifications are closely connected to matters of foreign policy and national security,” courts “can and do review foreign policy arguments that are offered to justify legislative or executive action when constitutional rights are at stake.” American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Comm. v. Reno, 70 F.3d 1045, 1056 (9th Cir. 1995).”

That’s the nub of it. The courts will step in when the constitutional rights of individuals are at stake. Make no mistake. Given the first few weeks of the new administration, a showdown over the limitation of Presidential power was inevitable. We can expect a lot of cases about Presidential power, and we can expect the courts to reel in the power of the executive, especially with one who has disdained the authority, competence and fairness of the judicial system.

© 2017 The Revolted Colonies ™

 

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