Damn You, Mitch McConnell – Part I

Mitch-McConnellAddison Mitchell McConnell is the very definition of corruption.  Last Friday, Dana Milbank wrote an opinion column in The Washington Post titled “Mitch McConnell is a Russian Asset”.  The column so incensed McConnell that he went on a 30-minute tirade on the Senate floor yesterday, referring to the column as “modern-day McCarthyism”.  To Mr. McConnell I would say this:  If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

It is a proven fact that the Russians did interfere in our 2016 election and that without their assistance it is unlikely that Trump could have won enough votes to win the electoral college (remember that he lost the actual vote by nearly 3 million)Proven. Fact.  So, why would anybody who is elected to protect and preserve this nation, its Constitution, and its people, refuse to take steps to prevent intrusion by a foreign adversary?  Why???  Think about that one.  Meanwhile, since Mr. Milbank’s column annoyed ol’ Mitch so much, I present it here and will offer my own, as well as others’ views in Part II of this post tomorrow.


Mitch McConnell is a Russian Asset

Dana-MilbankBy Dana Milbank, Columnist, July 26

 

Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset.

This doesn’t mean he’s a spy, but neither is it a flip accusation. Russia attacked our country in 2016. It is attacking us today. Its attacks will intensify in 2020. Yet each time we try to raise our defenses to repel the attack, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, blocks us from defending ourselves.

Let’s call this what it is: unpatriotic. The Kentucky Republican is, arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.

Robert Mueller sat before Congress this week warning that the Russia threat “deserves the attention of every American.” He said “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our election is among the most serious” challenges to American democracy he has ever seen. “They are doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign,” he warned, adding that “much more needs to be done in order to protect against these intrusions, not just by the Russians but others as well.”

Not three hours after Mueller finished testifying, Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went to the Senate floor to request unanimous consent to pass legislation requiring presidential campaigns to report to the FBI any offers of assistance from agents of foreign governments.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) was there to represent her leader’s interests. “I object,” she said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) attempted to move a bill that would require campaigns to report to the FBI contributions by foreign nationals.

“I object,” said Hyde-Smith.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tried to force action on bipartisan legislation, written with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and supported by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), protecting lawmakers from foreign cyberattacks. “The majority leader, our colleague from Kentucky, must stop blocking this common-sense legislation and allow this body to better defend itself against foreign hackers,” he said.

“I object,” repeated Hyde-Smith.

The next day, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the minority leader, asked for the Senate to pass the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, already passed by the House, that would direct $600 million in election assistance to states and require backup paper ballots.

McConnell himself responded this time, reading from a statement, his chin melting into his chest, his trademark thin smile on his lips. “It’s just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia,” he said. “Therefore, I object.” McConnell also objected to another attempt by Blumenthal to pass his bill.

Pleaded Schumer: “I would suggest to my friend the majority leader: If he doesn’t like this bill, let’s put another bill on the floor and debate it.”

But McConnell has blocked all such attempts, including:

A bipartisan bill requiring Facebook, Google and other Internet companies to disclose purchasers of political ads, to identify foreign influence.

A bipartisan bill to ease cooperation between state election officials and federal intelligence agencies.

A bipartisan bill imposing sanctions on any entity that attacks a U.S. election.

A bipartisan bill with severe new sanctions on Russia for its cybercrimes.

McConnell has prevented them all from being considered — over and over again. This is the same McConnell who, in the summer of 2016, when briefed by the CIA along with other congressional leaders on Russia’s electoral attacks, questioned the validity of the intelligence and forced a watering down of a warning letter to state officials about the threat, omitting any mention of Russia.

No amount of alarms sounded by U.S. authorities — even Republicans, even Trump appointees — moves McConnell.

On Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray — Trump’s FBI director — told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Russians “haven’t been deterred enough” and are “absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.”

This year, National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats — Trump’s intelligence director — told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “foreign actors will view the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests. We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics.”

And on Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report finding that “Russian activities demand renewed attention to vulnerabilities in U.S. voting infrastructure.”

The committee concluded that “urgent steps” are needed “to replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems.” (The $380 million offered since 2016 is a pittance compared with the need.) “Despite the expense, cybersecurity needs to become a higher priority for election-related infrastructure,” the report concluded.

But one man blocks it all — while offering no alternative of his own.

Presumably he thinks whatever influence Russia exerts over U.S. elections will benefit him (he’s up for reelection in 2020) and his party.

“Shame on him,” Schumer said on the Senate floor this week.

But McConnell has no shame. He is aiding and abetting Putin’s dismantling of Americans’ self-governance. A leader who won’t protect our country from attack is no patriot.

Ahhhhh … What A Fool

The piece I am sharing with you today does not come from The Onion, though you would be forgiven for thinking so.  It is, rather, a tongue-in-cheek look at Donald Trump as per his interview on Fox ‘News’ with Chris Wallace last Sunday by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.

This is what happens when a stable genius leads a stupid country

By Dana Milbank, Columnist, November 19 at 7:35 PM

Dana Milbank

President Trump is surrounded by fools.

There’s that fool William H. McRaven, Special Operations commander of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the other fools in the U.S. military, who should have brought down bin Laden “a lot sooner,” because “everybody in Pakistan” — all 208 million of them — knew the terrorist leader was living in “a nice mansion.” Trump alone “predicted Osama bin Laden” in 2000 when “nobody really knew who he was.”(Were they waiting for Trump to give them bin Laden’s Zip code plus four?)

There are the fools in the CIA, who have concluded based on so-called evidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered last month’s killing of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. But Trump alone understands that we’ll never know the truth, because the crown prince denied involvement “maybe five different times.”

There’s that fool Chris Wallace at Fox News, who didn’t understand why Trump skipped Arlington National Cemetery on the Monday after Veterans Day after skipping a visit to a U.S. military cemetery in France two days earlier. But Wallace, if he were wiser, would have known Trump was “extremely busy on calls for the country” as well as “doing other things.”

There are the foolish Finns who, after Trump claimed Finland avoided forest fires because “they spent a lot of time on raking,” are now mocking him by posing with garden tools in the woods. But Trump knows Finnish forest-raking is real because Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, told him about it just last week (even if Niinisto can’t remember this).

Worst of all are the fools in California — people who insist on calling the fire-destroyed town there “Paradise” instead of “Pleasure,” as Trump prefers to call it — who assert that the fires were caused by drought instead of their own mismanagement. As Trump well knows, “there is no drought” in California and there is “plenty of water.”

No one has suffered as many fools as Trump has. But this is to be expected when a “very stable genius” leads a “stupid country.”

Trump knows “more about courts than any human being.” He knows “more about steelworkers than anybody.” He knows “more about ISIS than the generals do,” and “more about offense and defense than they will ever understand.” He knows “more about wedges than any human being that’s ever lived.” He even knows more about medicine than his doctor, dictating a doctor’s letter predicting he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

How does Trump know so much about so many things? Explaining his disagreement with scientists on climate change, Trump told the Associated Press: “My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science.”

Given Trump’s natural scientific instinct, you don’t need a B.S. from Trump University to know how frustrating it must be to be contradicted repeatedly by “experts” — some in his own administration!

The intelligence community unanimously believes that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but Trump’s instinct says there’s no reason to disbelieve Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials.

Satellite imagery shows that North Korea has enhanced its ability to launch missiles, but Trump says, “I don’t believe that.”

The scientific consensus supports the theory of climate change, but Trump says “it could very well go back” to cooling.

Trump’s instinct has led him to a number of scientific discoveries over time:

“The worst hurricanes were 50 years ago.”

Vaccines cause autism in “many” healthy children.

The flu shot is “totally ineffective.”

Exercise is unhealthy.

Coal is “indestructible.”

Windmills are a “killing field” for birds and can make people who live near turbines “go crazy after a couple of years.”

It’s okay to look directly at the sun during a solar eclipse.

California is “shoving” water out to sea “to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

With such a high level of technical expertise, Trump waited 19 months into his presidency to name a White House science adviser. More than 1,000 members of the National Academy of Sciences accuse Trump of the “denigration of scientific expertise and harassment of scientists.”

But they don’t understand. Trump knows more about science than the scientists do.

And this is the problem with being surrounded by fools: Though Trump gives his presidency an “A-plus,” most Americans — about 60 percent — do not appreciate his brilliance.

He deserves better — and he should demand it. He should walk away, withdraw his excellence, maybe get a place in Pleasure — and leave us to suffer our own foolish “scientists” and “experts” and “facts.” That would really show us.

Deep breaths … lighten up … smile, for it is humour.  Any fool who rates himself an A+ when more than half the country, not to mention allies in other nations, hate him enough to wish to send him to Siberia, is a moron.

Perspective

Whew!  It certainly has been a week, hasn’t it folks?  This morning I stumbled on something that put our present situation into perspective just a bit.  It is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel in these dark times, and easy to believe that the destruction of our nation is at hand.  Our friend Roger of Woebegone frequently reminds me that this, too, shall pass and become naught but a blip in history.  An OpEd by Washington Post writer Dana Milbank this morning confirms this and since I found his words encouraging, I wanted to share them with you, my friends.

We interrupt this apocalypse vigil to say that America has conquered worse

dana-milbank.pngIt was another one of those weeks in which the wheels seemed to come off the axle of the American motor coach.

President Trump speculated about his power to pardon himself for crimes, and his lawyer said the president could shoot the now-former FBI director with legal impunity.

Trump is feuding with Canada and our closest allies in Europe, but is looking forward to “friendly” talks with North Korea, which, according to the CIA, has no intention of denuclearizing but is willing to open a hamburger restaurant.

Trump, inflaming racial tensions, disinvited the Super Bowl champions from a White House celebration and instead hosted a “loud” display of patriotism during which he muffed the words to “God Bless America.”

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, it was learned, tried to use his position to get a position at Chick-fil-A for his wife, scented lotion from the Ritz-Carlton and a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel.

The first lady, mysteriously missing from public view for more than three weeks, returned in time to hear her husband use a FEMA briefing on hurricanes to talk about election polls, his love of coal and Air Force One.

Oh, and a contractor at the National Security Council was arrested as he arrived for work at the White House on a charge of attempted murder.

There is a tendency amid this chaos to think that American government is disintegrating before our eyes. But this week also reminded us that the country has survived worse. It was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, which itself followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., at a time of war and rioting. We survived 1968. We’ll get through this, too.

I took a break from my apocalypse vigil this week to speak with Robert Mickey, a political-science professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in U.S. political history. And I offer this glass-half-full perspective on our current troubles:

Trump will not destroy American democracy.

Trump is a symptom of problems, more than the cause.

We’ll solve these problems — eventually.

“Our political situation is much more stable than it has been at many periods in U.S. history,” Mickey tells me, “and our discourse is more civil than a lot of those periods.”

During the 1790s, it wasn’t at all clear the new country would survive foreign invasion or internal division. The 1810s brought more of the same. The divisions of the 1850s led to the Civil War. The 1890s were filled with farmer revolts, strikes, robber barons, massive immigration, war with Spain, an economic depression and the expansion of Jim Crow. The 1930s brought the Great Depression and the rise of fascism. And then there was 1968.

Now, by contrast, “we have stable democratic institutions across the entire country in a way we profoundly did not before,” Mickey says. “The institutions we have, while being challenged, have been a source of strength.” Federalism has been a check on Trump, as California, New York and other states push back against him. The justice system, though assaulted by Trump, is proving to be a check on him. Trump, though breaking norms, seems to lack the competence to pull off a direct assault on democracy.

The real danger is not from Trump, but from the forces that gave rise to him and could continue to erode democracy over time: broad and persistent wealth inequality, the backlash against America’s shift from a white-majority nation toward a minority-majority one, the accompanying realignment of parties along racial lines and the related radicalization of the Republican Party.

Inequality destabilizes democracy by destroying the belief in “one person, one vote,” and giving rise to demagoguery. The United States is struggling with (and Trump is exploiting) its transformation from an electorate of white men to a multicultural one. “American democracy didn’t really kick in until the 1960s,” Mickey argues. “Periods we romanticize as civil and lovely were such because we struggled to keep race off the national agenda.”

Past crises have been resolved by either war, economic booms or luck. But this crisis could resolve itself by generational change.

Surveys from the Pew Research Center find that millennials are dramatically more likely than older generations to believe the country needs to make changes to give black people equal rights, that discrimination is the main thing holding African Americans back, that immigration strengthens the United States and that a bigger government that provides more services is better. There are indications the youngest and most nonwhite generation, Generation Z, will push against older generations even more on these questions.

This may be small comfort as Trump rains chaos and inflames tensions. It’s no excuse to relax in the fight to contain Trump. But we’ll get through this — even L’Affaire Chick-fil-A.

While this is encouraging, obviously we all still need to be speaking out against all the injustices, the threats as they happen.  But it’s helpful, I think, to remember that this nation has faced trials before and emerged intact.  Have a good weekend, my friends!

The Banana States of America — Part I

dana milbankA recent OpEd piece in The Washington Post by journalist Dana Milbank, carried the same title as this post … yes, I ‘borrowed’ it from him.  The premise of the article was that this 115th Congress is the most authoritarian in the history of the United States.  An excerpt from Mr. Milbank’s column

“Hillary Clinton warns of a “full-fledged crisis in our democracy.” Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state fired by President Trump, now warns that “American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.” (Too bad he didn’t say so when he was on the job.)

They are both correct, in a sense, but right now the fear of the United States going totalitarian doesn’t feel quite right. This crowd is too clownish to be Stalinist. Rather, the United States is turning into a banana republic …”

That is precisely what our friend Roger has been saying all along.  And he (Milbank, not Roger) goes on to cite some specific examples, such as …

“The president of the United States orders the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents. The Justice Department complies.

The president, The Post reports, personally urged the postmaster general to double the rate it charges Amazon, apparently because he doesn’t like the coverage by The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos.”

But rather than dwell on the article, which you can read from the link above, I wanted to find out what, exactly, constitutes a ‘banana republic’, so I did some research.  Technically, the term ‘banana republic’ refers to a country that is politically unstable with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas, minerals, etc. But in today’s conversations, it became an epithet for a country whose governing institutions are corrupt, arbitrary, and generally inadequate.  Clownish.

I came across a list of ten criteria that defines a banana republic in the modern day usage.  The United States, at this point under the leadership of Donald Trump, fits the bill for 8 of the 10, the only two missing being ‘torture’ and ‘high unemployment rates’.  I think we should take a look at these points.  As I researched, pondered, and wrote, this piece well exceeded my self-imposed outer limit of 1,200 words, even though I trimmed as much as I felt it appropriate to trim.  Thus, this became, over the course of a few days, a two-part series.  This is Part I, and Part II will follow this afternoon.  I also subtly changed the direction of my thoughts as I read, studied and learned more.   Where feasible, I have included links for those who may wish to learn more. Please forgive my wordiness, but I do hope you will give some thought to what I am about to say.

#1 – Rising income inequality and a shrinking middle class.  This isn’t a new complaint, for five years ago, in 2013, a well-researched report in the Journal of Economic Perspectives asserted that the U.S. now has the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world. They found that while the picture grows increasingly bleak for American’s embattled middle-class, “the share of total annual income received by the top 1% has more than doubled from 9% in 1976 to 20% in 2011.” And earlier this year, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD also found that the U.S. now leads the developed industrialized world in income inequality.

#2 – Unchecked Police Corruption and an Ever-Expanding Police State. Let me just throw out a few names for you, folks, starting with Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and the list goes on … and on.  Unarmed black men and women who were killed by police only for the crime of … being black.  And in every case except that of Walter Scott, the police who did the killing walked away scot free.  But more … add to that the way immigration raids by ICE are conducted, the way drug raids are conducted, enhancements to FISA, and you see a pattern of an authoritarian police force.

#3 – Highest Incarceration Rate in the World.  The U.S. has an incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000!  The next highest is Russia, with 615 per 100,000 people.  Does this mean that U.S. citizens are the most criminal in nature?  No, not at all.  Much of it is due to the ‘war on drugs’, which has emphasized draconian sentences for nonviolent offenses.  The prison industrial complex has become quite a racket. From prison labor to construction companies to companies specializing in surveillance technology, imprisoning people is big business in the United States—and the sizable prison lobby has a major stake in keeping draconian drug laws on the books.

#4 – Corrupt Alliance of Big Business and Big Government.  Need I say more than gun-makers, NRA and Republicans in Congress?  Consider Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism: the merger of state and corporate power. Consider the previously unchecked power of the too-big-to-fail banks.  And now, with Trump rolling back the Dodd-Frank banking regulations, we are returning to that state.  Banks, oil & coal companies, the gun manufacturers and others are holding hands with the Trump administration and the 115th Congress as regulations to protect the environment and the people are demolished.

To be continued …