Clueless

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s column from yesterday is astute, to-the-point, and well worth the few minutes it takes to read it.  He hits the nail on the head regarding Trump’s trade ‘negotiations’ with China.

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The Art of the Imaginary Deal

On trade, Trump is a rebel without a clue

Are we going to have a full-blown trade war with China, and maybe the rest of the world? Nobody knows — because it all depends on the whims of one man. And Tariff Man is ignorant, volatile and delusional.

Why do I say that it’s all about one man? After all, after the 2016 U.S. election and the Brexit vote in Britain, there was a lot of talk about a broad popular backlash against globalization. Over the past two years, however, it has become clear that this backlash was both smaller and shallower than advertised.

Where, after all, is the major constituency supporting Donald Trump’s tariffs and threats to exit international agreements? Big business hates the prospect of a trade war, and stocks plunge whenever that prospect becomes more likely. Labor hasn’t rallied behind Trumpist protectionism either.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans believing that foreign trade is good for the economy is near a record high. Even those who criticize trade seem to be motivated by loyalty to Trump, not by deep policy convictions: During the 2016 campaign self-identified Republicans swung wildly from the view that trade agreements are good to the view that they’re bad, then swung back again once Trump seemed to be negotiating agreements of his own. (We have always been in a trade war with Eastasia.)

But if there’s no strong constituency for protectionism, why are we teetering on the brink of a trade war? Blame U.S. trade law.

Once upon a time, Congress used to write detailed tariff bills that were stuffed full of giveaways to special interests, with destructive effects on both the economy and American diplomacy. So in the 1930s F.D.R. established a new system in which the executive branch negotiates trade deals with other countries, and Congress simply votes these deals up or down. The U.S. system then became the template for global negotiations that culminated in the creation of the World Trade Organization.

The creators of the U.S. trade policy system realized, however, that it couldn’t be too rigid or it would shatter in times of stress; there had to be ways to relieve pressure when necessary. So trade law gives the executive the right to impose tariffs without new legislation under certain circumstances, mainly to protect national security, to retaliate against unfair foreign practices, or to give industries facing sudden surges in foreign competition time to adjust.

In other words, U.S. trade law gives the president a lot of discretionary power over trade, as part of a system that curbs the destructive influence of corrupt, irresponsible members of Congress. And that setup worked very well for more than 80 years.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t intended to handle the problem of a corrupt, irresponsible president. Trump is pretty much all alone in lusting for a trade war, but he has virtually dictatorial authority over trade.

What’s he doing with that power? He’s trying to negotiate deals. Unfortunately, he really, really doesn’t know what he’s doing. On trade, he’s a rebel without a clue.

Even as he declared himself Tariff Man, Trump revealed that he doesn’t understand how tariffs work. No, they aren’t taxes on foreigners, they’re taxes on our own consumers.

When trying to make deals, he seems to care only about whether he can claim a “win,” not about substance. He has been touting the “U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement” as a repudiation of NAFTA, when it’s actually just a fairly minor modification. (Nancy Pelosi calls it “the trade agreement formerly known as Prince.”)

Most important, his inability to do international diplomacy, which we’ve seen on many fronts, carries over to trade talks. Remember, he claimed to have “solved” the North Korean nuclear crisis, but Kim Jong-un is still expanding his ballistic missile capacity. Well, last weekend he claimed to have reached a major trade understanding with China; but as J.P. Morgan soon reported in a note to its clients, his claims “seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated.”

Markets plunged earlier this week as investors realized that they’d been had. As I said, business really doesn’t want a trade war.

Let’s be clear: China is not a good actor in the world economy. It engages in real misbehavior, especially with regard to intellectual property: The Chinese essentially rip off technology. So there is a case for toughening our stance on trade.

But that toughening should be undertaken in concert with other nations that also suffer from Chinese misbehavior, and it should have clear objectives. The last person you want to play hardball here is someone who doesn’t grasp the basics of trade policy, who directs his aggressiveness at everyone — tariffs on Canadian aluminum to protect our national security? Really? — and who can’t even give an honest account of what went down in a meeting.

Unfortunately, that’s the person who’s now in charge, and it’s hard to see how he can be restrained. So the future of world trade, with all it implies for the world economy, now hinges largely on Donald Trump’s mental processes. That is not a comforting thought.Text dividers

What Happens If …

There are a number of opinion writers I greatly respect, and Charles M. Blow is in the top ten.  Mr. Blow writes for the New York Times and his work is most always level-headed and thoughtful.  Amid the many calls for impeachment to remove Trump from office, cooler heads must sometimes prevail.  In Blow’s column from December 2nd he explains why removing Trump from office is not a likely scenario, but would be the beginning of a new nightmare.

What Happens If …

The possibilities ahead in the Russia investigation suggest we are not reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather entering one.

Charles BlowBy Charles M. Blow

I no longer think that anyone in America, including Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters, can afford to put off the consideration of the central question of this administration: What if Donald Trump or those closest to him were compromised by the Russians or colluded with them?

There have always been those of us on the left who viewed his presidency as compromised, asterisk-worthy if not wholly illegitimate, because of the Russian interference.

A crime had been committed by Russia and Trump cheered the crime and used the loot thereof to advance his candidacy. That is clear.

The Russians made repeated attempts to contact people in Trump’s orbit and in some cases were able to meet with members of the team, as evidenced by the Trump Tower meeting. That is clear.

Members of Trump’s team were extremely interested in and eager to accept any assistance that the Russians could provide. That is clear.

And since assuming office, Trump has openly attempted to obstruct justice and damage or impede the investigation into what the Russians did and whether anyone in his orbit was part of the crime. That too is clear.

But for the people who support and defend Trump, this has already been absorbed andabsolved. They may not like it, but they are willing to overlook it. Indeed, they are so attached to Trump that his fortunes and his fate have become synonymous with theirs. There is a spiritual linkage, a baleful bond, between the man and his minions.

But what happens if the evidence that the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, uncovers reveals a direct link between Trump and the Russians? How do Trump’s boosters respond?

Last week, when Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timeline and the extent of Mr. Trump’s involvement in negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow, the political earth shifted.

If Trump was lying to or misleading the American people about his efforts to do business in Russia while running for president and the Russians knew — and presumably had evidence — that he wasn’t being completely honest and forthcoming, then he was compromised.

While it is by no means clear that the Russians ever used any information that they may have had to blackmail or otherwise pressure Trump, Cohen’s plea makes clear that they had the material to do just that.

This brings ever more clarity to Trump’s curious inclination to go soft on Russia condemnation, to take Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over that of his own intelligence agencies, and to drag his feet in acknowledging that Russia attacked our election in 2016 and may continue to do so in the future.

How would Americans who support Trump now respond to evidence that Team Trump put their own personal and financial interests over the national interest? Would they break from their blind support and turn away from him and turn on him? How could they justify wearing the blinders for so long and countenancing so much? What language would they use to correct their complicity?

There is a precedent in the Nixon investigation. When the evidence of wrongdoing was clear and incontrovertible, people began to peel away, tails tucked and full of shame.

But that was a different time, one in which media wasn’t so fractured and partisan, before the advent of social media and our current dissociable mentalities.

Nixon had no propaganda arm. Trump has one. It’s called Fox News. There is little daylight between the network’s programming and the White House’s priorities. If Trump goes down, so too does Fox, in some measure. So the network has a vested interest in defending Trump until the bitter end, and that narrative-crafting could impede an otherwise natural and normal disaffection with Trump.

Furthermore, Trump does not strike me as a man amenable to contrition or one interested in the health and stability of the nation.

I expect Trump to admit nothing, even if faced with proof positive of his own misconduct. There is nothing in the record to convince me otherwise. He will call the truth a lie and vice versa.

I also don’t think that Trump would ever voluntarily leave office as Nixon did, even if he felt impeachment was imminent. I’m not even sure that he would willingly leave if he were impeached and the Senate moved to convict, a scenario that is hard to imagine at this point.

I don’t think any of this gets better, even as the evidence becomes clearer. I don’t believe that Trump’s supporters would reverse course in the same way that Nixon’s did. I don’t believe that the facts Mueller presents will be considered unassailable. I don’t believe Trump will go down without bringing the country down with him.

In short, I don’t believe we are reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather we are entering one. This will not get easier, but harder.

The country is about to enter the crucible. This test of our republic is without a true comparison. And we do not have a clear picture of how the test will resolve. But, I believe damage is certain.

A Shared Opinion …

There are a number of opinion writers who I read regularly, and Charles Blow of the New York Times is one.  His column on Sunday struck a chord, for much of what he says mirrors my own thoughts very closely, especially when he says, “I would love nothing more than to write about other things, worthy things, more intellectually stimulating things. But for more than two years, I have written almost exclusively about Donald Trump.”  I initially intended to only provide a few snippets from this column, but after I studied and pondered it a bit, I decided to share the entire column after all.  Give it a read … I think you’ll be able to relate to much of what he says …

You Have a Right to Weariness

The struggle for goodness and decency is an eternal struggle, not a seasonal one.

Charles BlowBy Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist

Do we have a right to weariness in an era of animus? More precisely, can we afford it, or is exhaustion a luxury reserved for those whose wealth, privilege and status insulate them from the losses the rest of us could suffer? Does patriotic defense of country require perpetual, obsessive vigilance, or is it permissible to retreat occasionally for one’s own mental and spiritual health?

These are questions I ask myself regularly, and ones that are frequently asked of me, if not in those exact words. People are trying to figure out the proper posture to take in a world riven by deceit and corruption, a world in which the leadership of the country represents an assault on decency.

This is a conundrum, I must confess.

I, as much as anyone else, feel trapped by our current predicament. I would love nothing more than to write about other things, worthy things, more intellectually stimulating things. But for more than two years, I have written almost exclusively about Donald Trump.

I feel compelled by what I view as history, fundamental and consequential, playing out right before me with nothing short of the life of the republic at stake. And yet, at a certain point, words begin to fail, or the obvious has already been stated. Once you have pointed out that Trump is a liar, you can then note only that he is telling more lies. The same goes for his racism, bullying, anti-intellectualism, corruption and grift.

At some point, it becomes clear that the abnormal, outrageous and unacceptable have become a constant, and even the rolling boil of righteous folk’s indignation reduces to a simmer.

People often ask me, “When will it end? What can we do to get him out of there?”

My answer always is, “I doubt it will end soon, and there’s very little anyone can do to change that.”

I hate to bear that message, but it is the only one I can deliver if I wish to be honest rather than popular.

As much as there was to celebrate last week, with liberals winning control of the House of Representatives, and doing so with such a diverse slate of candidates, it was also clear that Republican control of the Senate means that any hope of removing Trump via impeachment has shrunk to nearly nothing. Even if the House impeaches Trump, the Senate remains highly unlikely to remove him.

Democrats are even debating how far they can take oversight in the House without turning off people politically.

The only hope is that the Robert Mueller investigation may deliver something so damning that some Senate Republicans view it as unacceptable. But there is no evidence as of yet that anything would sway them.

Trump is taking steps to severely hamper Mueller’s efforts. Last week, he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. The F.B.I. is currently investigating corruption at a company where Mr. Whitaker sat on the advisory board.

At this point, it may be more prudent to view what comes from the Mueller probe as fodder for the 2020 presidential campaign. It may not pave the way for an impeachment conviction by the Senate, but could well pave the way for an electoral “impeachment.”

It is very likely that we are stuck with Trump until the 2020 election, and even then the Democrats can take nothing for granted if they wish to defeat him.

That is the root of people’s distress. How can Republicans in Congress abide this behavior and use it for political positioning? How can so many of our neighbors condone open hostility to minorities, the press and the truth?

Or maybe the questions are for us. How could we not have registered fully just how hostile a substantial portion of America is to inclusion and equality? How could we not have registered the full depths of American racism and misogyny? How could we not remember that American progress has always been like a dance with a disagreeable partner, stumbling backward as well as moving forward?

I remember calling my mother when Trump was elected, and she was not nearly as distraught as I thought she’d be. Her stated reason: We’ve been through worse. She is an elderly black woman from the South. Her sense of history and heartbreak are long and fraught.

Recently, I’ve delved even more deeply into this line of thinking, reading about how black people positioned themselves during both Reconstruction and Jim Crow, when the political structures were largely arrayed against them.

I wanted to know how they survived and made progress against open hostility. The recurring themes are to never lose hope in the ultimate victory of righteousness; to focus your fire on the things you are most able to change; and to realize that change is neither quick nor permanent.

The struggle for goodness and decency is an eternal struggle, not a seasonal one.

Don’t beat yourself up if you need to tune out every now and then and take a mental health break. There is no shame in it. This is a forever fight. Once you have recharged, reapply your armor and rejoin the fight with even more vigor.

Voter Apathy — Part III

This is the third and final post in my series on voter apathy.  For this post, I share the words of another, Roxane Gay, in an OpEd piece she wrote for the New York Times.  The piece speaks for itself …

You’re Disillusioned. That’s Fine. Vote Anyway.

Very pragmatic advice for anyone thinking about not casting a ballot.

Roxane GayA young woman in Milwaukee recently asked me if I had any advice for disillusioned young voters. She said that in a representative democracy it was hard to want to vote for, in her words, “yet another 40,000-year-old white man” who didn’t look like her or have familiarity with her experiences.

Her question was genuine, and even though more women are running for Congress than in previous years and Stacey Abrams of Georgia has a chance to be the first African-American woman elected governor, I understood her overall frustration. For every beacon of progress there is a stark reminder that the status quo all too often prevails.

Young people are facing a lot of problems they had no hand in creating. Far too many of them are saddled with incredible amounts of student loan debt, working in a gig economy where little job security is scarce. If they have health insurance, it is likely inadequate. Homeownership can seem out of reach. Black voters are being disenfranchised at alarming rates. Reproductive freedom is precarious. Citizenship is precarious. Climate change threatens our planet on an alarming timeline. Things are grim and politicians of all persuasions are doing very little to assuage or address the very real concerns people have about this country and their place in it.

I could have offered a warm, gentle answer but these are not warm, gentle times. Given everything that has transpired since President Trump took office, I have no patience for disillusionment. I have no patience for the audacious luxury of choosing not to vote because of that disillusionment, as if not voting is the best choice a person could make. Not voting is, in fact, the worst choice a person could make.

In 2016, nearly 40 percent of eligible voters chose not to vote. Many who showed up to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 were apparently so underwhelmed by Hillary Clinton that they simply stayed home. And, of course, there were the voters who chose third-party candidates who had no chance of winning the presidential election but were still able to affect the outcome in key states. If and how one votes is a personal choice, but that choice has consequences.

We are reaping what has been sown from voter disillusionment and we will continue doing so until enough people recognize what is truly at stake when they don’t vote. A representative democracy is flawed but it is the political system we must work within, at least for the time being. We have a responsibility to participate in this democracy, even when the politicians we vote for aren’t ideal or a perfect match. Voting isn’t dating. We are not promised perfect candidates. Voting requires pragmatism and critical thinking and empathy and now, more than ever, intelligent compromise.

Only 40 percent of Americans choose to vote during midterm elections, generally speaking. There has been a lot of talk about the importance of voting next Tuesday because we are desperate to change the political climate and the first step in doing that is shifting the balance of power in Congress. Politicians, their volunteers and progressive publications have been vigorously trying to get out the vote in a range of ways.

Many of these efforts have been well intended but poorly executed. One tactic has been the use of bait-and-switch on social media — sharing something innocuous like celebrity gossip or a recipe, only to direct people to a webpage about voting and voter registration. These efforts imply that one cannot care about both trivial things and the state of our democracy. This bait-and-switch approach may not be anyone’s primary voter outreach strategy, but it is happening often enough to grate on my nerves. These efforts are predicated upon the belief that condescension and manipulation are the only way to reach apathetic or disillusioned voters when what we need is brutal honesty.

We deserve a better class of politicians who recognize the greater good and act in service of that greater good rather than in service of amassing more power. We deserve politicians who are held accountable for their decisions. We deserve politicians from all walks of life, not just the same old wealthy white heterosexual people who are overly represented in all branches of the government.

We also deserve to be disillusioned and disappointed with what our politicians, thus far, have offered. For the most part they have failed us spectacularly because they understand that radicalism doesn’t play well even though radicalism is what we need now, more than ever. And it is certainly a travesty that universal health care and a livable minimum wage and civil rights and higher taxes on the wealthy are considered radical, but here we are.

I am going to vote on next Tuesday but I can’t say I am particularly optimistic about the impact my vote will have. Between the corrupt stranglehold the Republican Party has on political power and the incompetence and cowardice of the Democrats, voting feels futile. The politicians I will vote for don’t represent me and what I believe in as much as I would like them to.

Voter disillusionment makes perfect sense but it is also incredibly selfish and shortsighted. In the past week, a biracial man was charged with sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats; reports said he drove a van covered in hateful propaganda. A white man tried to enter a black church in Louisville, Ky., and when he couldn’t, he went to a nearby Kroger grocery store and killed two black people. On a Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, a white man entered a synagogue, shouting anti-Semitic epithets. He killed 11 Jews and injured six others. This took place in the same week in which it was reported that the Trump administration thinks it might be able to define the transgender community out of existence, and in which the president continues to use the caravan of migrants heading to the United States to stoke the xenophobic hysteria of his base.

Every single day there is a new, terrifying, preventable tragedy fomented by a president and an administration that uses hate and entitlement as political expedience. If you remain disillusioned or apathetic in this climate, you are complicit. You think your disillusionment is more important than the very real dangers marginalized people in this country live with.

Don’t delude yourself about this. Don’t shroud your political stance in disaffected righteousness. Open your eyes and see the direct line from the people in power to their emboldened acolytes. It is cynical to believe that when we vote we are making a choice between the lesser of two evils. We are dealing with a presidency fueled by hate, greed and indifference. We are dealing with a press corps that can sometimes make it seem as though there are two sides to bigotry. Republican politicians share racist memes that spread false propaganda and crow “fake news” when reality interferes with their ambitions. Progressive candidates are not the lesser of two evils here; they are not anywhere on the spectrum of evil we are currently witnessing.

If you are feeling disillusioned, get over it, at least enough to vote and vote pragmatically. Tell your friends to vote. Drive people to the polls. Support candidates you believe in with your time or, if you can afford it, money. Volunteer for community organizations that address to the issues you most care about. Attend town halls held by your elected officials. Hold them accountable for the decisions they make with the power you give them. Run for local office. Do something. Do anything.

Nothing will change by sitting at home for the midterms or any other election. We cannot afford disillusionment. We cannot afford to do nothing. Lives are at stake and if you don’t recognize that, you are no better than those with whom you are disillusioned.

Roxane Gay, an associate professor at Purdue University, is the author of “Hunger,” and a contributing opinion writer.

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The Trump Circus

I mentioned to a few people yesterday that the thing that bothered me the most about Trump’s mockery and denigration of Dr. Christine Ford at one of his rallies on Tuesday was the fact that the audience approved.  They laughed.  They applauded.  Even far-right republicans, I thought, surely couldn’t approve of this b.s. by Trump, but it appeared that they did. Even women, some of whom surely had also been victims of sexual abuse, cheered.  I find this deeply disturbing.  This morning, as I was perusing various news outlets, I stumbled across an editorial by Charles M. Blow of the New York Times.  I believe Mr. Blow has hit the nail squarely on the head with his explanations for that crass behaviour that is so often exhibited these days at Trump rallies, and I thought his ideas were worth sharing with you …

Charles BlowThe Trump Circus

By Charles M. Blow

03 October 2018

It is a scene that has become all too common, and dare I say dangerously close to becoming mundane: Donald Trump said something outrageous at one of his political rallies and his supporters, those hopelessly beguiled by the bully, cheered.

This week, Trump trekked to Southaven, Miss., where he took the degenerate step of mocking Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Trump imitated and chided her:

Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer … How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? I don’t know. But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.

It was a repulsively grotesque spectacle, and yet from the assemblage of thousands came applause and roars of approval for Trump.

It is at moments like these that I try to step back from the particulars, to create some distance, so that I can ask myself the larger, more profound questions. How did we as a country arrive at the point where this is even possible? And how are there so many Americans willing to accept Trump’s corrosion of our culture and our discourse, to gleefully follow him as he plumbs the depths, probing for a bottom of acceptability that, in his world, seems to have been obliterated?

There are multiple explanations, to be sure: racism, xenophobia, ethnic hostility, Islamophobia, nationalism, Fox News, reduced access to privilege, lingering anti-Obama sentiments, a pronounced distrust of media in particular and truth writ large.

But I believe there are two other explanations that are much more base: entertainment and ownership.

First, the entire Trump presidency is a show, and many Americans find it quite entertaining, viewing Trump as its antihero.

He is brash, unconventional, emotional, sometimes raging and sometimes funny.

His rock-and-rage rallies (he has held nearly two dozen since being elected) are simply an extension of that, only more raw and raucous. Trump brings the big show and the big media with their big cameras to places and people who feel forgotten and isolated, looked over by the bustling coasts and the urban centers.

He is their entree to power, a personification and articulation of anger and anti-intellectualism, a way to wrap their hatreds in humor.

The rallies are part tent revival, part circus, part call-and-response game show. Like-minded people with look-alike faces populate them. They are orgies of sameness in which crowd dynamics produce and escalate a tornado of affirmation and acceptance until it is perfectly admissible to surrender any remaining morality to the mob.

It is a religious experience of conversion and immersion, a born-again baptism in which people emerge bound to one another and bound to Trump.

Trying to pry them apart from Trump, to make them somehow see the light and turn on him, is a time- and energy-wasting exercise. Trump is wielding a Jim Jones-level of influence and control over these people, and deprogramming the members of his cult would take more effort than most are willing to commit.

De-bunking the 25th Amendment Myth

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past week, you are no doubt aware of the Anonymous OpEd piece published by the New York Times last Wednesday, September 5th.  Anonymous claims to be a ‘senior official in the Trump administration’ who is part of a group within the White House attempting to quell the worst of Trump’s inclinations.  One line in the letter stirred a great deal of conversation:

“Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.”

Early on in the Trump presidency, I mentioned the 25th Amendment a few times as a possible means for removing the madman, and at that time, I saw some hope.  But, just as I have cautioned you that impeachment is absolutely not going to fly, I must now do the same regarding the 25th Amendment.

A quick explanation of how the 25th Amendment is supposed to work:

Under Section IV of the 25th Amendment, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet can send a letter to the president pro-tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House notifying them that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” When that happens, the vice president will assume the role of “acting president” and the president is (temporarily) relieved of his duties. The president can notify congressional leadership that no incapacity exists and unless the vice president and the majority of the cabinet disagree, the president will reassume his duties. Otherwise, two-thirds of both houses of Congress would be required to vote to permanently bestow the title of “acting president” upon the vice president.

The 25th Amendment was intended to deal with a situation in which the president was incapacitated but still alive. Imagine a scenario in which the president has suffered a massive stroke. The stroke has put him in a persistent vegetative state. He is unable to discharge the office but, because he has not died, the vice president cannot assume the presidency in the normal manner. Prior to the passage of the 25th Amendment in 1967, there was no constitutional remedy for such a situation. Such a scenario is real—such a medical crisis happens to Americans every day—and if it afflicted a president, the stakes would be profound.

The intent of the 25th Amendment was not to remove presidential powers because people disagreed with the president or because they questioned his judgment. It could be argued that Trump’s behaviors and actions in office suggest that he is suffering from some mental defect or other psychological disorder that renders him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” However, the president’s physicians have not declared that to be true, nor are they likely to. We may disagree with Trump, question his motives, or even question his competence in office, but short of a medical assessment saying otherwise, he would not be considered to be incapacitated.

Look at Mike Pence last Sunday, making the rounds of the morning talk shows and licking Trump’s boots at every stop.  Is this a man who is going to invoke the 25th?  Check out his cabinet members … find even two who would be willing to take the risk, let alone a majority.  And think about this … if they did grow a pair of cojones and take that first step … all Trump would have to do is fire the lot of them.  Ridiculous, you say?  Remember who we’re talking about here.

And then, even if all the above obstacles were overcome, we come back to the same argument I made to prove that an impeachment is not feasible:  it requires a 2/3 majority in both chambers of Congress.  The Senate, again, will be sort of a democratic majority even if every single seat that is open in November is filled by a democrat.  The republicans in Congress are not going to risk their necks, their ‘good standing’ with their voters to remove Trump from office.  Period.

So, no, Trump will not be impeached nor removed via the 25th Amendment in the foreseeable future.  My best guess is that, barring a true meltdown such as him removing all his clothing and running naked through the White House brandishing a flaming sword and screaming, “Burn, baby, burn!!!”, he will be in office until 20 January 2021.  The only way I can predict that changing is if the 36% or so who still support Trump can be convinced to listen to reason, to consider facts, to realize the dangers of him remaining in office.  As I have noted before, the republicans in Congress will move against Trump just as soon as their voters tell them to, and not one moment sooner.   It’s gonna be a long 783 days until election day 2020.

Trampling the Constitution …

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

These words are the presidential oath of office that every president takes upon being inaugurated into the office of president.  On 20 January 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the above oath to Donald J. Trump.  In the past 24 hours, the same Donald Trump has threatened to break his oath not once, but twice.Constitution-1The first came on the wave of his rage over the Bob Woodward book, Fear, that is to be released next Tuesday.  Trump repeated his call for stricter libel laws … a threat he has made before.  What Trump is actually calling for, however, is a change in the very definition of the word ‘libel’.

Defamation is defined as the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.  Defamation falls under two categories:  slander & libel.  The difference is simple: slander is verbal or by gestures, whereas libel is written or printed.

There are several things a person must prove to establish that libel has taken place. In the United States, a person must prove that 1) the statement was false, 2) caused harm, and 3) was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. These steps are for an ordinary citizen. For a celebrity or public official, a person must prove the first three steps, and that the statement was made with the intent to do harm or with reckless disregard for the truth.

Trump has been referring to the legitimate press as “the enemy of the people” while at the same time praising Fox News and even Breitbart, neither of whom are known for fact-based, honest reporting.  And now, he wants Congress to enact stricter libel laws, by which he simply means, by his definition, anything printed that is critical of him.  This is not how it works, and it would be a blatant disregard of the 1st Amendment if it were.  As long as what the press prints is factual, or to the best of their belief was factual, they are well within their rights.

Despite the fact that Congress has been bowing to the wishes of Trump since day #1, I cannot imagine that they would even consider such a bill, so I am not concerned that the press will ultimately be shuttered from reporting anything critical of Trump.  However, that he even threatens it is very concerning, for it is but one more indicator of his intent to rule rather than lead.  To bring the government into the realm of autocracy.  Such disregard for the Constitution goes against his oath.constitution-2The second and equally concerning threat was made as a response to protests against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that. I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on.”

Now, the statement in itself is disturbing enough, and taken in conjunction with his rants about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police killing unarmed black men, it makes an even more chilling thought.  “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protestors.”  Again, I direct attention to the 1st Amendment that protects freedom of speech, including peaceful protests.  And again, I remind you that he referred to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia last year as “very fine people”.  He did not suggest shutting down their freedom of speech.

What is, perhaps, almost as bothersome as what he said is to whom he said it.  He made the statement during an Oval Office interview with the Daily Caller.  Now, in case you aren’t familiar with the Daily Caller, it is a conservative website co-founded by Tucker Carlson of Fox News fame.  Mr. Carlson has more controversies under his belt than can even be tallied.  To give you one small example of his idiocy, he is against seat belt laws.  Like its co-founder, the Daily Caller is laden with controversy and is definitely not a legitimate source of news.  A few examples:

  • In 2017, The Daily Caller published a story claiming that a “peer-reviewed study” by “two scientists and a veteran statistician” found that global warming had been fabricated by climate scientists. The alleged “study” was a PDF file on a WordPress blog, and was not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

  • In March 2013 The Daily Caller posted interviews with two women claiming that New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez had paid them for sex while he was a guest of a campaign donor. The allegation came five days before the 2012 New Jersey senate election. News organizations such as ABC News, which had also interviewed the women, the New York Times, and the New York Post declined to publish the allegations, viewing them as unsubstantiated and lacking credibility. Subsequently, one of the women who accused Menendez stated that she had been paid to falsely implicate the senator and had never met him. Menendez’s office described the allegations as “manufactured” by a right-wing blog as a politically motivated smear. A few weeks later, police in the Dominican Republic announced that three women had claimed they were paid $300–425 each to lie about having had sex with Menendez.

Carlson Tucker is not much different than Alex Jones, it would seem, and anybody who reads and believes the Daily Caller should come see me about a bridge I have for sale.  For Donald Trump to treat the Daily Caller as a legitimate news source, while denigrating the 141-year-old Washington Post, and the 167-year-old New York Times, is an indicator of his intelligence, or lack thereof.

So, we have a president who, as I have said from the very beginning, is not satisfied with the office of president, but seeks to undermine the foundation of the Constitution by chiseling away at the rights and privileges that document gives us in order to expand and extend his power.  Surely Congress will stop him, right?  Um … well …

**  Endnote:  While I am writing a post, I rarely check news other than to verify facts or look up something pertaining to the post I am writing at the time, lest I lose my focus.  Thus, I was not aware of the anonymous letter from a senior administration official that was published in the New York Times late yesterday afternoon until I had finished writing this post.  I will have more to say about that later, once the dust has settled just a bit, but Trump’s comment that “the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” sends chills and signals another potential attempt to undermine the Constitution.  

Trump vs New York Times — AGAIN!

SulzbergerOn July 20th, A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, went to the White House by invitation from Donald Trump.  Mr. Sulzberger was accompanied by James Bennet, who oversees the editorial page of The Times. Trump’s aides requested that the meeting be off the record, which has been the practice for such meetings in the past, and to which Mr. Sulzberger agreed.

However, yesterday morning, Trump, in his usual manner, was unable to control his thumbs and tweeted …

“Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times. Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”

It should be noted that Trump himself coined the phrase “enemy of the people”.

Mr. Sulzberger saw that tweet as an invitation to put his prior meeting with Trump on record, and as such, he published a terse summary of the meeting in the New York Times.

Statement of A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher, The New York Times:

My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.

I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.

I told him that although the phrase “fake news” is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists “the enemy of the people.” I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.

I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.

Throughout the conversation I emphasized that if President Trump, like previous presidents, was upset with coverage of his administration he was of course free to tell the world. I made clear repeatedly that I was not asking for him to soften his attacks on The Times if he felt our coverage was unfair. Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country. 

Not to be outdone, Trump put on his paint and returned to his warpath:

“When the media – driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it  truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic! Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news accurately. 90% of media coverage of my Administration is negative, despite the tremendously positive results we are achieving, it’s no surprise that confidence in the media is at an all time low! I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the dying newspaper industry. No matter how much they try to distract and cover it up, our country is making great progress under my leadership and I will never stop fighting for the American people! As an example, the failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements – and they will never change!” (Compilation of a series of four tweets)

Note that Trump equates negative news about himself with ‘fake’ news.

Such maturity has surely never before been seen in the Oval Office before.  🙄free press-1During the meeting, Mr. Sulzberger recalled telling Trump that newspapers and other media outlets had begun posting armed guards outside their offices because of a rise in threats against journalists. Trump, he said, expressed surprise that they did not already have armed guards.  At another point, Trump bragged about using the phrase “fake news,” and said other countries had begun banning such “fake news”. Mr. Sulzberger explained to him that those countries were dictatorships and that they were not banning “fake news” but rather stifling independent scrutiny of their actions.  Why does the man who sits in the Oval Office need to have this explained to him?  WHY???free press-5.jpgTherein lies the potential problem.  Trump praises dictatorships for actually banning reporting that may not be favourable to the government, something Trump would very much like to be able to do, but he is stopped by that pesky 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Do not, folks, for one minute think that Trump has stopped trying to find a way to do just that.

When Trump couldn’t garner the votes to repeal Obamacare, he began chipping away at it by executive orders and withholding payments to insurance companies.  Similarly, he realizes that he cannot simply revoke the 1st amendment, so he is chipping away at the freedom of the press by denigrating reporters, revoking press passes, refusing to answer questions from certain media outlets, barring reporters from events, and insisting that all televisions in his venue air only Fox News.

free press-2Every morning when I first boot up my computer, I wonder if I will receive an error message when I try to log onto BBC, The Guardian or the New York Times.  So far it hasn’t happened, but frankly I will not be surprised if it does someday.  The best weapon we have to prevent it is our vote in November and our support of the legitimate media – you know, the ones Trump calls ‘fake’.

Meet David Sadler …

Over 2 million black Americans were unable to vote in 2016.  One in thirteen African-Americans are not able to vote due to a felony conviction.  In four states, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, that rate is one in five!  My initial intent was to write this post on the topic of ‘felon disenfranchisement’, as it is called.  But I came across the story of one man who fought to restore his right to vote and is now running for state senator representing the 25th District of Alabama.  This man’s story is amazing.  Be sure to take a look at the ‘hugs’ video!

He Walked for His Right to Vote. Now He’s Running for Office.

David Sadler wants to be the next state senator representing the 25th District of Alabama, a stack of three counties in the southern part of the state that includes the capital, Montgomery. He is handsome, charismatic and passionate, and speaks in the apolitical language of unity and justice. He’s running as a Democrat but doesn’t strongly identify with any political party.

He probably won’t win — the 25th District is overwhelmingly Republican and white — but don’t tell him that.

“We’re going to win,” Mr. Sadler said on one unusually cool evening late last month, as he hunkered down on the general-admission lawn at the Montgomery Biscuits’ minor-league ballpark. His 5-year-old son, Dennis, sat curled on his lap, wrapped in a thick yellow Biscuits blanket.

Mr. Sadler, who is 45 and runs a car service in Montgomery, recounted a recent conversation with one of his regular clients, a political pollster. “You cannot win. Flat out. You cannot win,” Mr. Sadler recalled him saying. “But then, within five minutes of talking to me, he said, ‘You know what? Let me take that back. If anybody can win, you can win.’”

You’d think that Mr. Sadler would be the kind of citizen-politician who would define the American system, fulfilling its ambition to be a participatory democracy. But it’s only through his own extraordinary efforts to break down the system’s barriers against him that he can even vote, let alone run.

Mr. Sadler grew up near Pittsburgh as a clean-living, law-abiding kid in a family of drug dealers. Shortly after starting college, he was charged with attempting to sell a small amount of crack cocaine to an undercover informant. It was a case of mistaken identity, he said. But he agreed to plead guilty — he was young and afraid, and his court-appointed lawyer told him it was the only sure way to avoid prison.

In 2000, Mr. Sadler moved to Orlando, Fla., with plans to play professional football in the arena league. At the first workout, he ruptured a tendon in his knee. He gave up sports and applied to a master’s program in international business at the University of Central Florida, but his request for financial aid was denied. “And that’s how I found out I was a convicted felon,” Mr. Sadler said. “I had no clue.” The consequences, he quickly learned, were not limited to financial aid. He couldn’t get jobs other than menial labor, and — along with about six million other Americans with a criminal record — he couldn’t vote.

Felon-disenfranchisement laws have had a huge and largely unnoticed impact on American politics, including possibly altering the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Most were passed in the late 1800s explicitly to keep black people from the ballot box, and today they continue to hurt minorities disproportionately. But lately the tide has been turning, as many states have made it easier for people with criminal records to vote again. In Florida, which disenfranchises more people with criminal records than any other state, voters will decide in November whether to restore voting rights to as many as 1.5 million of their neighbors. And New Jersey lawmakers are considering whether to join Vermont and Maine as the only states to allow people to vote even while in prison.

For Mr. Sadler, the only way to regain the right to vote was a pardon from the governor of Pennsylvania. So he did what anyone with limitless energy and a very good pair of shoes would do: He hand-delivered a clemency petition, walking from Orlando to the governor’s office in Harrisburg. Over 32 days in the dead of summer, he walked 1,178 miles, dawn to dusk daily, sleeping on benches and subsisting on whatever food he could afford along the route. He grew a beard and lost 25 pounds. “That walk was like my pilgrimage to manhood,” Mr. Sadler said. “I looked like Forrest Gump.”

The governor denied his petition. But his walk earned him publicity and the attention of a veteran civil-rights activist and political organizer in Alabama, Jerome Gray. Mr. Gray convinced Mr. Sadler to move to Alabama and lead a push to restore voting rights to the more than quarter-million disenfranchised Alabamians. Mr. Sadler took the job, and traveled around the state in support of a 2004 state law that made it easier for people with a criminal record to regain the right to vote.

When Mr. Sadler tried again for a pardon, Mr. Gray gave him some advice: “Don’t make any noise this time. Don’t walk; don’t do anything.” Instead, Mr. Gray said, lie low. In 2011, it worked. “I say it’s my rebirth,” Mr. Sadler said. “It took me 16 years, but I got it.”

Since then, Mr. Sadler has gotten married and started a family — he and his wife, Destiny, have three young children. Last year, he helped push for another significant reform of the state’s infamous “moral turpitude” law, a Jim Crow-era relic that has blocked hundreds of thousands of people from voting.

He also has a streak of showmanship, an instinct for virality and a desire to connect with people that could serve him well in public office, but which have so far manifested in a series of increasingly bold and disarming public actions, beginning with his long-distance trek. In 2016, Mr. Sadler stood blindfolded outside the Biscuits’ stadium and offered free hugs — “to prove to people,” he said, “that it’s not the same old South.” Fans of all colors and ages took him up, and a video of the event has gotten more than six million views on Facebook.

Last July 4, in response to the shootings of unarmed black men around the country, Mr. Sadler staged his own hanging in the heart of downtown Montgomery. The holiday crowd stood and gawked, but the police left him alone. A sign taped to his body said “Dear D.O.J.: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”

That’s not a political platform, exactly, but it speaks to Mr. Sadler’s basic message, which is, he said, “to restore hope and self-worth through faith.” His hope, in the immediate future at least, is to energize the tens of thousands of eligible voters in the 25th District who don’t usually turn out — many of whom may be able to vote for the first time since having a criminal record, thanks in part to his efforts. (He’s not giving up the stunts, though: he said his campaign plans to carry a sofa to cities around the district and invite voters to sit down and talk.)

Jerome Gray, the political organizer, has no illusions about the challenge Mr. Sadler faces, but he declined to count him out.

“He came to Alabama with no car, and now he has a transportation service,” Mr. Gray said. “He owns his own home. He has a fleet of cars. That guy, I don’t write him off, because he won’t go away.” – The New York Times Editorial Board – 16 May 2017

 

Let Them Eat Trump Steaks

Paul Krugman is an economist who has taught Economics at MIT, Yale, and the London School of Economics.  In 2008, he won a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. This man obviously knows of what he speaks. He is also a columnist for the New York Times.  His column today, titled Let Them Eat Trump Steaks, is about the current administration’s efforts to rob low income people of any and all benefits. His words grabbed me and I felt it was something worth sharing. cognitive dissonance

In general, Donald Trump is notoriously uninterested in policy details. It has long been obvious, for example, that he never bothered to find out what his one major legislative victory, the 2017 tax cut, actually did. Similarly, it’s pretty clear that he had no idea what was actually in the Iran agreement he just repudiated.

In each case, it was about ego rather than substance: scoring a “win,” undoing his predecessor’s achievement.

But there are some policy issues he really does care about. By all accounts, he really hates the idea of people receiving “welfare,” by which he means any government program that helps people with low income, and he wants to eliminate such programs wherever possible.

Most recently, he has reportedly threatened to veto the upcoming farm bill unless it imposes stringent new work requirements on recipients of SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still commonly referred to as food stamps.

Let me be upfront here: There’s something fundamentally obscene about this spectacle. Here we have a man who inherited great wealth, then built a business career largely around duping the gullible — whether they were naïve investors in his business ventures left holding the bag when those ventures went bankrupt, or students who wasted time and money on worthless degrees from Trump University. Yet he’s determined to snatch food from the mouths of the truly desperate, because he’s sure that somehow or other they’re getting away with something, having it too easy.

But however petty Trump’s motives, this is a big deal from the other side. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that new work requirements plus other restrictions proposed by House Republicans would end up denying or reducing nutritional aid to around two million people, mostly in families with children.

Why would anyone want to do that? The thing is, it’s not just Trump: Conservative hatred for food stamps is pervasive. What’s behind it?

The more respectable, supposedly intellectual side of conservative opinion portrays food stamps as reducing incentives by making life too pleasant for the poor. As Paul Ryan put it, SNAP and other programs create a “hammock” that “lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

But this is a problem that exists only in the right’s imagination. Able-bodied SNAP recipients who should be working but aren’t are very hard to find: A vast majority of the program’s beneficiaries either are working — but at unstable jobs that pay low wages — or are children, elderly, disabled or essential family caregivers.

Oh, and there’s strong evidence that children in low-income families that receive food stamps become more productive and healthier adults, which means that the program is actually good for long-run economic growth.

Is it about the money? The enactment of the budget-busting 2017 tax cut proved once and for all, for anyone who had doubts, that Republicans don’t actually care about deficits.

But even if they did care about deficits, the C.B.O. estimates that the proposed cuts to food stamps would save less than one percent, that’s right, one percent, of the revenue lost due to that tax cut. In fact, over the next decade the entire SNAP program, which helps 40 million Americans, will cost only about a third as much as the tax cut. No, it’s not about the money.

What about racism? Historically, attacks on food stamps have often involved a barely disguised racial element — for example, when Ronald Reagan imagined a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks. And I suspect that Trump himself still thinks of food stamps as a program for urban black people.

But while many urban blacks do get food stamps, so do many rural whites. Nationally, significantly more whites than blacks receive food stamps, and participation in SNAP is higher in rural than in urban counties. Food stamps are especially important in depressed regions like Appalachia that have lost jobs in coal and other traditional sectors.

And yes, this means that some of the biggest victims of Trump’s obsession with cutting “welfare” will be the very people who put him in office.

Consider Owsley County, Ky., at the epicenter of Appalachia’s regional crisis. More than half the county’s population receives food stamps; 84 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2016. Did they know what they were voting for?

In the end, I don’t believe there’s any policy justification for the attack on food stamps: It’s not about the incentives, and it’s not about the money. And even the racial animus that traditionally underlies attacks on U.S. social programs has receded partially into the background.

No, this is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government. It’s about privileged people who look at the less fortunate and don’t think, “There but for the grace of God go I”; they just see a bunch of losers. They don’t want to help the less fortunate; in fact, they get angry at the very idea of public aid that makes those losers a bit less miserable.

And these are the people now running America.

These, folks, are the facts.  Just one more reason we need to ensure some changes happen on 06 November.